WASHINGTON – Wesley Bartlett is still fighting the cancer that’s spread throughout his body, but after 16 years of legal wrangling he’s stopped fighting the Kelly.
The Supreme Court last week refused, for a second time, to hear the suit filed by Bartlett and 65 other former workers at Kelly-Springfield who blamed the Cumberland tire plant for their various ailments.
It was the apparent end of a 16-year legal fight in which the workers never had their day in court.
“When you get to the Supreme Court and they turn you down, that’s the end,” said Henry Eigles, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs. “That’s it.”
Officials at Goodyear Tire and Rubber Co. — which bought Kelly- Springfield and was the defendant in the suit — welcomed the end of the case.
“We’re obviously satisfied that this has come to a conclusion after just about 20 years of being in the courts,” said Goodyear spokesman Keith Price.
“Regarding the people involved, we really can’t speak as to what caused the ailments that these folks have been suffering, but, through this, we believe that it was not work related,” Price said.
“We are sympathetic for what they’re going through, but this has shown that it’s not work related,” he said.
Aldridge vs. Goodyear was a consolidation of 66 lawsuits that accused the company of exposing workers at the Kelly-Springfield plant to toxic chemicals without disclosing either the identity of the chemicals or the exposure risks of those substances.
The case was thrown out of federal district court in Baltimore three times for failing to prove that the former workers’ ailments arose from exposure to chemicals at the plant.
Twice, the circuit court sent the case back to district court for limited exchanges of evidence, but the case never went to trial. The former Kelly employees lost their third appeal to the circuit court, and the Supreme Court refused in November to consider the case.
The high court last week rejected an appeal to reconsider its November decision, letting the lower courts’ rulings stand.
“How (Goodyear) can get this thrown out all the time is beyond me,” said Bartlett, 71.
The former carpenter at “the Kelly” has had a kidney, his prostate and half a lung removed. In December, he said, doctors removed a tumor from his spine after a bone scan showed new growth.
The Aldridge suit was one of four multiparty suits filed over allegedly hazardous conditions at the Kelly plant. One of those suits, Heinrich vs. Goodyear, reached a confidential settlement. The other three groups, including Aldridge, have all lost.
The legal battles have been frustrating, Bartlett said. Goodyear “will fight you till after you’re dead,” he said, adding that the financial burdens from the disease have also been considerable.
While the suit has taken up much of his time for the past decade and a half, Bartlett said he can’t worry about it anymore.
“I don’t have any plans for nothing. I leave that to the lawyers hands,” he said. “I plan on living as long as I can and fighting the cancer.”