Once touted as the next asbestos, a mass tort involving welding rods is starting to look like a textbook case in the manufacturing of an epidemic.
One of the hottest topics on the tort lawyer conference circuit is welding rod litigation. A $1 million award in 2003 got lawyers’ attention. An Illinois maintenance worker convinced a jury that the manganese fumes emitted during welding caused his Parkinson’s. Even though plaintiffs have yet to score another courtroom victory (the defense has won ten; others settled), and the science linking welding to neurological disorders is sketchy, tort lawyers have filed suits on behalf of thousands of welders.
But recent events open a window into how a tort claim becomes epidemic. In December the first two welding cases in a mass tort with 5,300 claimants imploded amid charges of faked injuries. And now defense attorneys for a dozen companies are asserting that manganese-induced Parkinson’s and its supposed symptoms were fabricated “out of thin air” by lawyers and a physician working with them.
The lead trial lawyer is tobacco tort king Richard (Dickie) Scruggs. The physician who saw the majority of claimants is Dr. Paul Nausieda, medical director of the Regional Parkinson’s Center in Milwaukee. “He’s a one-man epidemic,” proclaims defense attorney John Beisner. “He defines manganism, designs the screening process and does the diagnosing.”