An Indiana County jury this week awarded $226,000 to the family of a man who had been exposed to asbestos while he worked at the Fisher Scientific plant along Indian Springs Road in White Township.
George Baroni, of the Homer City area, worked for Fisher from 1959 to 1994 and later developed mesothelioma, an incurable cancer of the lining of the lungs. Baroni, 73, died in October 2005 and his family filed the civil lawsuit the next year against the companies that provided Fisher with products that contained asbestos.
Several lawsuits have been filed in recent years in the Indiana County court by former Fisher Scientific workers – or their estates – but the Baroni case was the first to be decided by a jury.
The others ended in out-of-court settlements, including some that were reached after a jury had been selected and testimony had begun in court.
Three of the four companies sued by the Baroni estate “resolved their differences” with the family before the trial, said attorney Jason Luckasevic, of the Goldberg Persky & White law firm that represented Baroni’s estate.
Only Taylored Industries opted not to settle and took its chances with a jury. Because of “joint and several liability” – meaning that all the defendants were alleged to share equal responsibility for Baroni’s illness and death – each defendant is responsible for paying one-fourth of the award, $56,500, to the estate.
Luckasevic declined to elaborate on the terms reached earlier between the Baroni family and the other companies – F.B. Wright Co., George B. Hamilton, Inc., and one referred to as the Gage Company: Pittsburgh Gage & Supply Co., which now is owned by IU North America Inc.
All the companies have outlets in the Pittsburgh area and furnished different asbestos-containing products. Some were used in the equipment in the Fisher plant and others were components of the finished items that Fisher manufactured, such as hospital and laboratory equipment and furniture.
Taylored Industries supplied asbestos-cement board products to the plant, F.B. Wright made gaskets and packaging, George V. Hamilton provided roll insulation and the Gage Company made pipe covering and gaskets used in maintenance at Fisher Scientific.
Attorney Matthew Wimer, of Wimer Law Offices in Oakmont, defended Taylored Industries in the trial. Taylored contended that Baroni was primarily exposed to the asbestos in the products that the other companies made.
The jury heard testimony and listened to depositions for two full days in court then deliberated a little over three hours on Thursday. The panel held the companies liable for $86,000 of out-of-pocket medical and funeral expenses in the “wrongful death” provision of the suit, and ordered the companies to pay $120,000 in survivors’ benefits. The verdict also included $20,000 for “loss of consortium” – the value the jury placed on the absence of George Baroni from the lives of his wife and children.
Wimer said the jury was “hardworking and attentive.” He declined to comment further, saying that the product-liability phase of the lawsuit was over but that a negligence charge remained.
Luckasevic said the Baroni family does not plan to continue the litigation.
“They are happy that the jury did the right thing,” Luckasevic said. “They can move on with their lives now … knowing that the jury returned what caused Mr. Baroni’s death.”