A federal appeals court has reopened lawsuits filed by the widow of a ceramic artist who allegedly contracted mesothelioma from the packaging material from which he obtained materials.
The Westerville, Ohio-based Edward Orton Jr. The Ceramic Foundation manufactures and sells pyrometric cones, which are used to measure the temperature of a kiln during the firing of ceramic products, according to Tuesday’s ruling by the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in Deborah Johnson, Individually as Representative of the Estate of Bruce Johnson v. Edward Orton, Jr. Ceramic Foundation.
Orton ships the cones to its customers in cartons filled with packing materials designed to prevent the cones from breaking.
From 1963 to 1975 and from 1979 to 1981, Orton purchased the mineral vermiculite from WR Grace & Co. for use as packaging material. WR Grace operated a vermiculite mine near Libby, Montana, which also contained asbestos deposits, according to the ruling.
Bruce Johnson, a ceramic artist and teacher, used pyrometric cones made by Orton from 1971 to 1984, and testified that the boxes in which he received the cones were filled almost to the brim with vermiculite.
Mr. Johnson was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, which is almost always caused by exposure to asbestos, in 2017 and died of the disease in January 2020, according to the ruling.
A product liability lawsuit was brought against Orton by the Johnson family and pursued by Johnson after Mr. Johnson’s death.
In January 2021, the U.S. District Court in Chicago granted Orton’s motion for summary judgment and dismissed the case. It was overturned by a three-judge court panel.
The district court “should not have granted summary judgment on the issue of Orton’s employment during the period after September 1981,” it said. At the time, Orton had “actual knowledge” that the WR Grace vermiculite was contaminated with asbestos, and “there is a genuine issue of triable fact as to Orton’s continued use” of it.
Attorneys in the case did not respond to requests for comment.