Though the welding industry continues to vigorously defend itself against a growing tidal wave of welding rod litigation, it was dealt a serious blow in March 2006 when its repeated attempts to overturn a welding rod fumes case failed in the Illinois Supreme Court. The case is a landmark in welding rod litigation, in which former welders claim that exposure to fumes from welding rods caused manganism and even Parkinson's disease.
The Original Case
Though several welding rod cases have produced multi-million dollar settlements, the original case in question is a landmark because it is the only welding rod verdict ever decided in favor of the plaintiff. The case, entitled Elam v. A.O. Smith, contended that the plaintiff, a 64-year-old Illinois welder who worked in the profession for 30 years, suffered neurological damage from long-term exposure to the toxic fumes that are a byproduct of welding rods. The case was previously tried before a hung jury (Illinois law demands a unanimous jury); in its retrial, Jack Elam was awarded $1 million in "compensatory damages" for his welding rod-related Parkinson's disease. The jury found that A.O. Smith failed to provide adequate safety warnings about the dangers of manganese in welding rod fumes.
The verdict was a watershed in more ways than one - it unleashed a wave of welding rod litigation once attorneys knew that it was possible for a verdict to be awarded in the plaintiff's favor. The welding rod cases have become so numerous that a multi-district litigation is underway in Ohio; it numbers well over 3,000 plaintiffs.
Lost on Appeal
The defendants in the original case quickly appealed the case, contending that it did in fact adequately warn workers of the dangers of working with welding rod fumes. However, in December 2005, the 5th District Appellate Court of Illinois found that the company did not warn workers adequately, upholding the $1 million verdict. On second appeal, the court was taken up before the Illinois Supreme Court. However, it dealt a devastating blow to the welding industry - and gave an encouraging nod to former welders looking to get compensated for their own occupational welding rod-related illnesses - when it effectively upheld the verdict by declining to review the case.
Former Welders Cling to Hope; Continue to Litigate
Despite the fact that the $1 million verdict is the only one ever given to a welding rod litigant, former welders who are suffering from Parkinson's, manganism and other occupational illnesses related to their welding work are retaining hope. Welding rod attorneys hope that the Elam v. A.O. Smith will set a precedent that allows other litigants to collect damages for their occupational exposure to manganese. If you are suffering health problems due to your work as a welder, contact a doctor and then an experienced welding rod litigation attorney who can analyze your case and tell you whether you may be qualified to monetary damages.
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