Legal Affairs takes a look at Dickie Scruggs's effort to pin legal blame on industrial suppliers over Parkinson's-like symptoms in welders; the connection if any of the symptoms to the inhalation of welding fumes is much disputed. A 6,000-suit consolidated action, led by a Mississippi plaintiff, is expected to reach trial this summer. Although the relevant source of the fumes is the manganese contained in welding rods, Scruggs is also attempting to tag with liability a variety of other deep-pocket entities related to the welding business at one distance or another, including members of its trade association, who he claims are guilty of conspiracy. Key passage:
During a pretrial motion in [Judge Kathleen] O'Malley's courtroom, George Ruttinger of Crowell & Moring in Washington, D.C., struggled to extricate the $30 billion company Caterpillar from the fight. He argued that the plaintiffs hadn't specified what role, if any, his client had played in the alleged conspiracy. "Caterpillar doesn't make these," he said, holding up a welding rod. "Caterpillar makes these." The lawyer unwrapped a toy version of an earthmover. Caterpillar and its fellow defendants, Ruttinger continued, were being penalized for joining the trade association -� which was "probably inconsistent" with the First Amendment right to association.
But O'Malley wouldn't let Caterpillar off so easily. While noting that the plaintiffs would have to prove that collusion took place, she said the defendants might have had plausible motives for conspiring to hide the ill effects of manganese �- the desire to keep products cheap. "This is bad public policy," Ruttinger grumbled. "The idea that someone can undertake a duty just by joining a trade association is untenable."