Welding Fume Multidistrict Litigation Ends

GAWDA CONSULTANT CORNER JDF CORDINATING COUNSEL REPORT

The victory may prove bittersweet.

It’s officially over. The Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation issued an order dissolving the Welding Fume MDL, based on the recommendation of Judge Kathleen O’Malley, who presided over the Welding Fume MDL since its formation in 2003. More than 12,000 welding fume lawsuits were consolidated and transferred to the United States District Court for the Northern District of Ohio during the ten years the MDL was active. Many cases were subsequently withdrawn or abandoned after plaintiffs lost a series of jury trials and appeals in state and federal courts. Only one jury verdict awarded to a welding fume plaintiff—the $1 million Elam verdict issued by a Madison County, Illinois, state court in 2003, survived appeal. After suffering the string of defeats, the remaining plaintiffs agreed to join a global settlement last year. The Special Master appointed by Judge O’Malley to resolve claims and oversee distribution of the settlement pool completed his work earlier this year.

The official termination of the MDL brings an end to a decade of expensive litigation that was never supported by science or medicine. But the victory may prove bittersweet for the welding industry, as the focus on welding and the welding industry appears to be spawning a new generation of lawsuits. As noted in prior columns, plaintiffs are increasingly focusing on components of welding fumes other than manganese, such as chromium (Cr6) and fluoride, as well as asbestos. Several new asbestos-related suits have been filed this year, as well as generic lung cancer suits that do not specify any particular component of welding fumes alleged to have caused injury.

The end of the MDL was hard earned and should be savored. However, the industry must remain vigilant to evolving threats—even as the mass tort wave subsides.

(Disclaimer: The information provided in this column is a service provided by GAWDA for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice.)

Michael Degan

Michael Degan

Mike Degan is GAWDA’s joint defense fund coordinating counsel for welding fume litigation and a partner with the law firm of Husch Blackwell LLP. Members can reach him 402-964-5000 and mike.degan@huschblackwell.com.