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Illinois appeals court tosses $3.3M asbestos verdict, says it's not clear company's products caused worker's death

Lawsuits

By Dan Churney | Jan 24, 2020

Fourth district appellate courthouse
Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court, Springfield | Jonathan Bilyk

An Illinois appeals panel has overturned a $3.3 million verdict in a McLean County asbestos case, saying there was not enough evidence for the jury to find a glazier "substantially" contracted a fatal lung disease from a company's weatherproofing products, rather than from other sources.

The Jan. 21 ruling was delivered by Justice Thomas Harris, with concurrence from Justices Robert Steigmann and John Turner, of Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court in Springfield.

The ruling favored Tremco Inc., in a suit filed against it by Ruth Krumwiede, Jeff Krumwiede and Mike Krumwiede, the widow and sons of Willard Krumwiede. Tremco is a manufacturer of roofing and weatherproofing materials in Beachwood, Ohio.

Willard Krumwiede worked as a glazier in central Illinois and northeast Indiana from 1956 until retiring in 1991. He died in 2012 at age 81 from mesothelioma, according to the suit. His family sued Tremco in 2013 in McLean County Circuit Court, claiming Krumwiede died from inhaling asbestos into his lungs, which was contained in Tremco caulk and tape he used in his glazing work. The family alleged Tremco knew of the asbestos danger, but did not warn those who worked with the company’s products.

The case went to trial in 2017, with the jury returning a $5.1 million verdict — later reduced to $3.3 million — for the Krumwiede family. Tremco asked Judge Rebecca Foley, who presided over the trial, to throw out the verdict, contending there was no proof Krumwiede was exposed to asbestos fibers from Tremco products or that such exposure was a substantial cause of his lung disease. Foley refused and Tremco appealed.

Justice Harris agreed with plaintiffs there was sufficient evidence Tremco’s wares could have released asbestos. However, Harris said plaintiffs did not demonstrate when and under what circumstances Krumwiede would have breathed asbestos fibers from the products. 

“We agree that the record shows decedent worked in close proximity with Tremco’s products on a regular and frequent basis. However, it does not necessarily follow from such evidence that he also had frequent, regular, and proximate contact with respirable asbestos fibers from those products,” Harris said, adding it was "speculative and conjectural" to conclude Willard had "anything more than minimal" contact with the fibers.

Harris further noted Krumwiede could have ingested asbestos from other sources besides Tremco's caulk and tape. In this regard, Harris said plaintiffs failed to show Tremco's products, compared to other sources, were a "substantial" factor in Krumwiede's development of mesothelioma.

The Krumwiede family is represented by Wylder Corwin Kelly LLP, of Bloomington.

Tremco is represented by Heyl, Royster, Voelker & Allen, of Peoria, and lawyer Michael T. Reagan, of Ottawa.

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Organizations in this Story

Illinois Fourth District Appellate CourtHeyl RoysterMcLean County Circuit CourtWylder Corwin KellyLaw Office of Michael T Reagan