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AkzoNobel Cleared in Product Claim

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

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Akzo Nobel Paints LLC was not negligent in its manufacture of a coating applied by an automotive-plant painter who later died of cancer, a federal-court jury has found.

Plaintiff Joanne Schulz had filed suit against AkzoNobel (formerly, the Glidden Co.) and other companies, alleging that her husband contracted acute myelogenous leukemia from exposure to benzene in paints he used on the job over several decades.

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Longtime painter Donald Schultz (not pictured) was exposed to trace amounts of benzene that eventually caused terminal cancer, his widow alleged. Jurors disagreed.

Donald Schultz worked for American Motors Corp. (later known as Chrysler Corp.) from the late 1950s through the late 1980s as a paint booth or room sprayer and as a maintenance painter at plants in Kenosha, WI; Cleveland, OH; and Los Angeles, CA, according to his widow's complaint, first filed in 2008 and amended in 2009.

Benzene Exposure

Throughout his career, Schultz "was exposed to benzene-containing products manufactured by Defendants," the suit alleged. The occupational exposures to the products "were a cause of his development of cancer," the suit said.

Schultz, who also had a history of cigarette smoking, was diagnosed with cancer on Nov. 25, 2005, and died Sept. 23, 2006.

The suit alleged negligence by the manufacturer in "failing to adequately warn Schultz" about the hazards of benzene and accused the manufacturer of selling defective products.


The verdict found AkzoNobel (formerly known as Glidden Co.) not guilty of negligence in the painter's illness and death.

At trial, Schultz "claimed that her husband was exposed to trace amounts of benzene in a type of paint known as 'dry fog' that he applied with an airless sprayer while he was working at Chrysler" in Kenosha during the 1980s, the news service Law 360 reported, citing court documents.


However, after a nine-day trial, jurors in U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Wisconsin answered "no" in their verdict March 11 when asked:

  • Were any of the [Glidden/Akzo] paints in such defective condition as to be unreasonably dangerous to a person when they left the control of Glidden Company? and
  • Was [Glidden/Akzo] negligent in manufacturing, supplying and/or selling paints?

At trial, AkzoNobel challenged the testimony of an expert witness for the plaintiff. Oncologist Stephen Gore testified that "non-trivial" levels of benzene can cause cancer, but he did not quantify "non-trivial," Law 360 reported.

Gore testified that "there is no threshold risk of safe exposure to Benzene."

The District Court originally rejected Gore's testimony as scientifically unreliable. The Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit, reversed the decision, however, and, in 2013, ordered a new trial.

The appellate court did dismiss the case against defendant Durako Paint & Color Corp., citing lack of evidence "that Schultz was exposed to a Durako product."


Tagged categories: AkzoNobel; Coating Materials; EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa); Glidden; Laws and litigation; Maintenance coating work; North America; Shop-applied coatings; Spray booths; Toxicity

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