ANGLETON, TX - Testimony was under way in a $1.4-billion asbestos trial in Angleton, TX, in which Kelly-Moore Paint Co. is seeking a verdict against Union Carbide Corp., now a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Co.

Kelly-Moore is the target of thousands of asbestos claims filed by individuals who say they were harmed by asbestos-containing products formerly made by the San Carlos, CA, coatings manufacturer and retailer.

An attorney for Kelly-Moore, Mark Lanier, opened the company's case by arguing that Union Carbide failed to disclose the dangers of asbestos it supplied to Kelly-Moore, according to news reports. The trial was expected to last six to eight weeks.

"I think the evidence will show you that Union Carbide never did a lick of homework to show that its products were safe," Lanier told the 23rd District Court jury. He told jurors Union Carbide was aware of asbestos dangers as early as the 1930s and suppressed information to the public and its customers.

According to news reports, Lanier has said the company would use any proceeds from a favorable verdict to pay asbestos claimants and legal costs.

Attorneys for Union Carbide replied that information about asbestos hazards had become common knowledge by 1964, the first year the company sold any asbestos to Kelly-Moore. The lawyers also said product information for Calidria, the trade name for Union Carbide's chrysotile asbestos, and supporting documentation over the years contained significant medical disclaimers.

Kelly-Moore filed the suit against Union Carbide in 2002. Kelly-Moore Chief Financial Officer Dan Stritmatter said Union Carbide supplied asbestos used in drywall compound made by Kelly-Moore's Paco Textures subsidiary. The company discontinued the use of asbestos in the compound in 1978. Stritmatter said Kelly-Moore never used asbestos in paint products.

Stritmatter told PCI that Kelly-Moore is engaged in litigation in thousands of asbestos claims filed across the country. The company maintains that many of the cases are without merit, based on the fact that Kelly-Moore has sold products only in the western and southwestern states. Stritmatter cited the situation in Mississippi, where 22,000 claims have been filed, even though Kelly-Moore never sold products there.

Stritmatter described as "overblown" statements in news reports suggesting that the outcome of the Texas lawsuit is "crucial" to the company's survival. He said the company is disposing of asbestos claims "every day" through dismissals, settlements or other actions.