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BLOOMINGTON — A $1.3 million verdict awarded in January 2014 to a Heyworth man in an asbestos-related lawsuit has been reversed by the 4th District Appellate Court in Springfield.

James Smith filed the lawsuit in 2005 against his former employer, the Illinois Central Railroad, now known as Canadian National Railway, and several other firms that manufactured asbestos.  Settlements with the other companies left the railroad as the only defendant at a McLean County trial.  

Smith has since died of asbestosis, according to his lawyer, James Wylder. 

The appellate court reversed the jury's decision in favor of Smith, who alleged that he was exposed to dangerous substances while working in the Bloomington rail yard.

In its appeal, the railroad argued that McLean County Judge Rebecca Foley erred when she barred the jury from hearing about Smith's previous work at the nearby Union Asbestos & Rubber Co. facility for three months in 1954.

Wylder said an appeal of the ruling will be sought with the Illinois Supreme Court.

"We will petition the Supreme Court because we believe the decision is inconsistent with prior Supreme Court rulings" in other asbestos-related cases," said Wylder, whose firm won a $3.3 million award for a client in another McLean County asbestos case in February.

A lawyer for the railroad was not available for comment on the reversal.

At Smith's trial, one of his doctors testified that when released, the toxic material becomes a "neighborhood disease" that endangers those in the surrounding area and others who may come in contact with them or their clothing afterward.

Smith testified that he worked for the railroad for three years in the mid-1950s. Smith told the jury that "he was afraid he was going to get cancer. He stated he thought about it every day," according to the appellate opinion.

In his ruling, the appellate court said the railroad should have been able to tell the jury about Smith's work at UNARCO. Without that information, the jury "clearly found plaintiff had an asbestos-related disease, which it could only blame on defendant because it heard no other evidence with regard to asbestos exposure," said the ruling.

The ruling also noted that evidence presented at Smith's trial supported the opinion that the deceased worker and others were not provided a safe working environment.

A new trial date has not been set in the case.

Follow Edith Brady-Lunny on Twitter: @pg_blunny

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