Welding-Rod Makers Not Liable For Health Issues, Jury Says

Verdict could influence thousands of similar claims.

CLEVELAND (AP) - A jury on Tuesday found makers of welding rods were not liable for the health problems of a former civilian worker at a Navy base in a ruling that could influence thousands of similar claims, some headed to trial in coming months.

Ernesto G. Solis, 57, claims years of exposure to welding fumes at his job at a Navy base in Corpus Christi, Texas, damaged his health because of exposure to manganese within welding rods. Scientific research has been at odds over whether such exposure can lead to neurological disorders such as Parkinson's disease, which diminishes movement and speech.

Solis, who has a tremor in his right hand, had his hands folded in front of him when he left the courtroom. He declined to comment.

The Solis case is the first to go to trial of about 3,800 cases filed nationally that were consolidated in 2003 before U.S. District Judge Kathleen O'Malley in Cleveland. The cases seek to draw a link between manganese contained in welding rods to harden a weld and neurological impairment in welders.

The next trials are scheduled for Aug. 14 in Union County, Ark., and Oct. 2 in Jefferson County, Ark., said Eric Wetzel, a plaintiffs' spokesman. The next welding trial before O'Malley could begin in the fall.

There are more than 10,000 welders with pending federal and state court claims of neurological problems from welding, Wetzel said.

Wetzel said the test case was hand-picked by the welding industry.

''The vast majority of cases filed against the welding industry are far stronger than this one,'' he said. ''We're disappointed but not deterred.''

Eric Kennedy, a member of the defense's legal team, said his side was pleased with the verdict, which he believes addresses the core issue in this case and others pending before the judge.

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