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Laundry caused 84-year-old's asbestos illness, lawyers claim in Madison County trial

By Steve Gonzalez - Edwardsville Bureau

February 16, 2006 - An 84-year-old woman from Burbank, Ill. is asking a Madison County jury to award her damages because she was exposed to asbestos while washing her husband's work clothes between 1966 and 1970.

On Thursday, the first asbestos trial of 2006 got under way in Circuit Judge Dan Stack's courtroom.

Anita O'Connell claims Bondex International and Georgia-Pacific were negligent for injuries she received from asbestos fibers that became airborne while she shook out her husband's work clothes before washing them.

Her husband, George O'Connell, owned Bel-Aire plastering in Burbank. She claims she would wash her children's clothes along with her husband's after a long day at work.

"Every time she did the laundry she was exposed to asbestos," her lawyer Chris Panatier of Baron & Budd in Texas said during opening statements.

Panatier also told the jury that this is a "simple case" and it will remain a simple case until the end of the trial, which will make it simple to decide.

Bondex and Georgia-Pacific attorney Jeff Hebrank of the Burroughs Firm in Edwardsville told the jury he did not think it was that simple.

He also asked the jury to listen carefully to the experts Panatier will call to testify about asbestos and mesothelioma.

Hebrank told the jury they would hear the experts talk about asbestos and its effects in general, but the experts would not talk about this case and they will not talk about asbestos in joint compound.

Hebrank also said one of Panatier's experts would probably testify that there is asbestos inside the courtroom but will not walk in wearing a respirator.

Panatier told the jury that George O'Connell and his sons used joint compound that was manufactured by Bondex and Georgia-Pacific and that Michael O'Connell will testify that his father purchased the products from George J. Roll and Sons in Blue Island, Ill.

Mark Phillips of Nelson Mullins Riley Scarborough in South Carolina also represents Georgia-Pacific.

Phillips told the jury that Roll and Sons never carried any Bondex products and have no record of ever selling any Georgia Pacific joint compound to George O'Connell.

Phillips also told the jury during opening statements that one of his experts, Gerald Kerby, M.D. of Kansas, will testify that Anita O'Connell's mesothelioma was not caused by asbestos exposure. Short-fiber chrysotile asbestos, the kind that Georgia Pacific used in its joint compound, does not cause mesothelioma, he will state.

The trial is expected to last about eight to 10 days. The jury consists of nine women and five men.


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