Appeals court rejects $1.4M verdict in McLean Co. asbestos case

McLean County Law and Justice Center
A $1.4 million verdict in a McLean County asbestos case has been tossed out and a new trial ordered. (Photo by B Corbin/WJBC)

By Eric Stock

SPRINGFIELD – An Illinois appeals court has thrown out a $1.4 million verdict in a McLean County asbestos case and called for a new trial.

A McLean County jury in January 2014 ordered Illinois Central Railroad Company to pay the verdict for James Smith who suffers from asbestosis, a chronic lung disease caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.

The 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield ruled on Thursday that attorneys for the railroad company should have been allowed to tell the jury that Smith had also worked at the (Union Asbestos & Rubber Company) UNARCO facility at the Bloomington rail yard prior to working for the railroad.

Dozens of former UNARCO workers and in some cases, their surviving family members, have sued the company for asbestos exposure and won verdicts totaling in the millions of dollars.

“While defendant had no obligation to do so, it should have been allowed to present evidence of plaintiff’s UNARCO work experience in an attempt to establish plaintiff’s exposure at UNARCO was to blame for plaintiff’s asbestosis should the jury find plaintiff had asbestosis,” presiding justice Carol Pope wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Because the trial court did not allow defendant to present this evidence, once the jury found plaintiff had asbestosis, it could only conclude the asbestosis was caused by plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos while working for defendant.”

UNARCO moved to Bloomington in 1951 and was closed in 1972. The company filed for bankruptcy in 1982

No trial date has been set.

Eric Stock can be reached at eric.stock@cumulus.com.

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