A US federal judge has fined Illinois Tool Works unit $45,000 and ordered it and other welding rod makers to turn over secret documents as punishment for producing evidence late before a trial.
The Illinois Tool unit, Hobart Brothers, released 15,000 pages of documents just days before a trial began 5 June in Cleveland in a lawsuit by a 57-year-old welder diagnosed with Parkinson's-like symptoms. The welder, Ernesto Solis, claims he was sickened by toxic fumes released from welding products made by Hobart, ESAB Group, TDY Industries and Lincoln Electric, the world's largest maker of welding equipment.
Hobart's late disclosures "constitute not only violation of the parties' obligations under the civil rules, but they constitute blatant violations of this court's orders," US District Judge Kathleen O'Malley said, according to a 7 June transcript of remarks she made with the jury out of the courtroom. The documents "are clearly relevant, clearly should have been produced a long time ago."
The lawsuit in federal court in Cleveland is one of several thousand against welding-equipment makers, contending that the fumes released when welding rods are heated cause neurological disorders. Welding-equipment companies have lost one of the 11 lawsuits that have gone to trial. The disclosure of additional documents may give welders a better chance of winning, law professor Carl Tobias said.
"There could be nothing, but there could be a smoking gun," said Tobias, who teaches product liability law at the University of Richmond Law School in Virginia.
The companies won't appeal the order, industry spokeswoman Brandy Bergman said. The documents will play no role in the Solis trial, which hasn't gone to the jury yet, she said.
"We don't believe the court's decision on this motion will prevent this Cleveland jury from reaching the right decision in this case," Bergman said. "The bottom line is, welding is not responsible for Mr. Solis's ailments."