Md. Court Reverses $3M Asbestos Jury Award for Paper Mill Worker

November 22, 2005

Maryland’s second-highest court has reversed a $3 million jury verdict won by a former paper mill worker who alleged his lung cancer stemmed from asbestos exposure at the plant in western Maryland.

The Court of Special Appeals ruled last week that defendant Scapa Dryer Fabrics Inc., a Windsor, Conn.-based unit of Britain’s Scapa Group Plc, should have been granted a motion to delay the 2003 trial to prepare its defense. The case was remanded to Baltimore City Circuit Court for a new trial.

Scapa manufactured dryer felts, which is fabric attached to the conveyor belts of machines, that Carl Saville cleaned and maintained at the former Westvaco paper mill in Luke from 1964 to 1978. The mill is now owned by NewPage Corp., a company controlled by Cerberus Capital Management, LP of New York.

Of the hundreds of dryer felts used at the mill during Saville’s employment, just two were asbestos-containing felts made by Scapa, according to the unreported opinion. And there were other sources of asbestos in the mill, according to the ruling.

“During his employment Saville was exposed to asbestos used in, among other things, pipe insulation, gaskets, cement, turbines and boilers,” retired Judge Raymond G. Thieme Jr. wrote for the court.

Scapa, named as a defendant just six months before the trial, “was denied the opportunity to locate and review materials that might have established a key element of its defense,” Thieme wrote.

The lower court also erred in denying Scapa’s motion to sever itself from the case, which involved two other plaintiffs and multiple defendants.

“Scapa’s case was so dissimilar that refusing to sever Saville’s claim was an abuse of discretion,” Thieme wrote.

Saville was diagnosed with lung cancer and mesothelioma in 2001 or 2002. He filed suit in June 2002 against 32 defendants.

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