Lockheed sued for $1.5 billion over worker illnesses

May 17, 1991

GLENDALE, Calif. -- Lockheed Corp. has been hit with five lawsuits seeking nearly $1.5 billion in damages from 248 current and former employees who allege they became ill after the company negligently exposed them to toxic chemicals, it was reported Friday.

The suits, filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in Glendale, allege that the workers at Lockheed's Southern California facilities have developed health problems ranging from skin discoloration to cancer, the Los Angeles Daily News said.

The suits also name 28 companies that supplied chemicals to Lockheed, including Shell Oil Co., Minnesota Mining & Mfg. Corp. and General Electric Corp.

The plaintiffs are seeking $5 million each in punitive damages, plus another $250 million for exemplary damages, the newspaper said.

Lockheed spokesman James Ragsdale said Friday that the company has not yet been served with the lawsuits, which were reportedly filed Wednesday by attorney Timothy Larson.

Ragsdale said Larson has previously filed nine similar suits against Lockheed.

Ragsdale said that only one of the cases -- a 1986 suit suit filed by 77 plaintiffs -- has gone to trial and that Lockheed was dismissed as a defendant.

Those suits have alleged the injuries were the result of handling composites, lightweight materials used in producing such high-technology aircraft as the F-117A stealth fighter.

Lockheed officials said two years ago that 352 workers' compensation claims had been filed in connection with the handling of composites, which are made of carbon and other fibers meshed in plastic resins. The resulting material can then be designed to absorb radar waves.

Ragsdale said the company runs safe facilities and is running an aggressive training program to teach workers how to handle chemicals.

Lockheed agreed in 1989 to pay $1.5 million in fines after the Occupational Safety and Health Administration cited 440 violations of federal safety laws and faulty record-keeping at the company's Burbank, Calif., plant.

In a separate probe in 1989, OSHA inspectors found 230 violations of job safety and health standards at the company's Southern California facilities in Burbank, Palmdale and Santa Clarita.

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