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Lincoln No-Settlement Stance Dodges...

Lincoln No-Settlement Stance Dodges Tobacco-Sized Injury Award

By: Magnolia Tribune - April 22, 2008

Lincoln No-Settlement Stance Dodges Tobacco-Sized Injury Award

Lincoln Electric Holdings Inc., the world’s largest welding-equipment maker, has escaped the fate of tobacco and asbestos producers by scoring upset victories over trial lawyers claiming its products caused symptoms resembling Parkinson’s disease.

Attorneys who sued the Cleveland-based company won only 3 of 15,000 cases filed this decade after predicting litigation would bankrupt the industry. New suits fell from 9,510 in 2003 to 57 last year, said John Beisner, a lawyer for 12 welding- products makers, including Lincoln.

Workers started suing in the 1970s, claiming manganese fumes from heated rods and wires gave them tremors resembling Parkinson’s disease.

The number of cases rose after lawyers including tobacco litigators Richard Scruggs and Don Barrett began advertising for welders as clients and conducted “cursory” medical screenings of more than 10,000, Beisner, 55, of Los Angeles-based O’Melveny & Myers, said in an interview.

The lawyers told equipment makers in 2003 they could escape the fate of companies sued over asbestos by settling before being taken to court, Beisner said.

“The industry declined,” he said.

Barrett, of Lexington, Mississippi, recalled “many” meetings and quoted industry representatives as saying they’d never lost a trial.

“What we said was, in asbestos the plaintiffs lost the first 10, 15 cases, then they learned how to win them,” he said.

Scruggs didn’t return calls for comment. He pleaded guilty last month to bribing a judge over an unrelated case.

Workers will prevail in future cases, said David Shelton of the Scruggs Law Firm in Oxford, Mississippi, winner of December’s $20.5 million award and the one in February for $2.9 million. “We’re not saying the plaintiffs will win every one, but we’ve caught up with the industry on knowledge of the health risks,” he said.

Barrett said litigation won’t bankrupt the industry, which has “practically unlimited insurance” to deal with “hundreds, maybe thousands of cases, but not millions.”


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Magnolia Tribune

This article was produced by Magnolia Tribune staff.