June 20, 1996 In a verdict that could send
tremors through Detroit, Ford Motor Co. was ordered yesterday to pay more
than $14 million in damages to the widows of two Baltimore mechanics who
died of a rare form of cancer after they were exposed to asbestos in brake
parts supplied by the auto giant.
Nearly a month after the trial began in Baltimore circuit
Court, a six-member jury deliberated just 3 1/2 hours over two days before
awarding $8,069,934 to the widow of Keith K. Grewe Sr. and $6,307,727 to the
widow of Nollie P. Wood Sr.
Although the amounts awarded fall in line with similar cases --
thousands still are backlogged in the city -- these cases are believed to
represent the first time that Ford has been found responsible for asbestos
exposure from its brake linings.
"What the jury has said is that manufacturers, no matter
the magnitude of their operation, are responsible for the products that they
distribute and the potential harm that they [cause] to unsuspecting
consumers," said Baltimore Orioles principal owner, Peter G. Angelos,
whose law firm represented Grewe.
"In the past, these cases have not been successfully
prosecuted. "This case clearly was and certainly
establishes that brake pads containing asbestos were and continue to be
hazardous, and manufacturers and distributors ... owe and obligation to warn
Ford attorney Steven R. Williams could not be reached for
comment yesterday, but the Big Three automaker, based in Dearborn, Mich., is
expected to appeal the decision to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals.
Ford argued that the mechanics were exposed to asbestos outside
their work with Ford's brake pads and that, as a result, the company was not
responsible for the disease -- mesothelioma -- associated with their
But the lawyers for the two mechanics and their wives
asserted that the men worked on Ford autos with Ford brakes, which were
lined with asbestos.
Grewe, exposed to asbestos while working as a Baltimore brake
mechanic, was 55 when he died on Oct. 14, 1993.
His wife, Nancy Grewe, could not be reached for comment.
Wood was exposed to asbestos between 1948 and 1952 as a garage
mechanic for the U.S. Post Office at 439 E. Preston St. in Baltimore, his
He retired from the postal service in 1971, was diagnosed with
cancer in January 1990 and died at age 71 on May 26, 1990.
His wife, 78-year-old Rosanna G. Wood, also a retired postal
worker, declined comment through her attorneys, Deborah K. Hines and Shepard
But Hoffman said, "There is no worse way, degrading,
terrible way to die than this cancer. ... This cancer grows inside your
chest, it crushes all you internal organs as it grows and it suffocates and
strangles you until [you] waste away to nothing."
Hoffman said that companies such as Ford knew 50 years ago that
asbestos was dangerous, but hid the hazards from the public.
With yesterday's verdict, Hoffman said, the message now is:
"If you go around killing people, you're going to pay a price for it
"What it says is, 'Make safe products.'"