Two Former Maine Paper Mill Workers File Asbestos Lawsuits

March 13, 2006

Two former paper mill workers in Maine who were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease have filed separate lawsuits against asbestos manufacturers and suppliers.

James Crowley, who worked at the former Oxford Paper Mill in Rumford for three years in the 1960s, and Emile Richard, who worked at International Paper in Jay from 1952 to 1987, filed the suits in Androscoggin County Superior Court. Their wives are also named as plaintiffs.

They name about two dozen businesses as defendants, including plumbing suppliers and an insurance company, but are not holding the mills where they worked responsible for their injuries.

The suits say that Crowley and Richard inhaled asbestos fibers when they worked at the mills. The men suffer from mesothelioma, which is thought to usually be caused by inhaling asbestos materials, according to the complaints.

The disease causes people’s lungs to thicken with mucous, making it difficult to breathe until they can no longer draw a breath, said Suzanne Johnson, a lawyer for the plaintiffs.

“It’s a pretty awful disease,” Johnson said. “It’s a very painful process of dying.”

The suits ask that two Pennsylvania lawyers be allowed to serve as co-counsel because they are familiar with many of the defendants that are based out-of-state, Johnson said.

The suits were filed at a time when Congress is considering legislation to create a $140 billion trust fund for asbestos victims. If passed, it would void all present and future asbestos lawsuits, unless a verdict has been reached.

The measure last month fell two votes short in the U.S. Senate of the 60 votes required to overcome a hurdle erected by the bill’s opponents, forcing its sponsors to shelve it. But proponents led by Sen. Arlen Spector (R- Pa.) are still trying to come up enough signatures to get a reconsideration.

The bill would seek to end decades of lawsuits that have bankrupted more than 70 businesses. According to supporters, tens of thousands of people sickened by asbestos and related diseases have not been compensated.

Opponents said the fund would be drained by claims against it, leave taxpayers liable and violate federal budget rules.

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