LINCOLN/apr21/bb/12 inches/mike1st/mark2nd

By BRAD BERTON

Staff Reporter

Cleveland-based Lincoln Electric Co.'s request to have a $1 billion class-action product liability lawsuit dismissed has been denied, according to the attorney representing the steel-frame building owners that filed the suit.

U.S. District Court Judge J. Spencer Letts has rejected Lincoln's motion to dismiss the case and also remanded the case back to Los Angeles Superior Court the state-administered court where it was originally filed, according to lead plaintiffs' attorney Kenneth R. Chiate of Pillsbury Madison & Sutro.

In January, owners of earthquake-damaged steel-frame buildings in Los Angeles filed a class-action defective product suit against Lincoln Electric, the nation's biggest seller of weld metal.

The Superior Court suit accuses Lincoln Electric of making and marketing a weld metal that poses an unreasonable risk to building owners and to the public.

Lincoln Electric has denied the allegations that its "E70T-4" weld metal exposed the public to unreasonable danger and that supposed defects in the product resulted in widespread structural damage in the January 1994 Northridge earthquake.

Lincoln has also denied that E70T-4 is "inherently unsafe" in seismically sensitive areas such as Los Angeles, another allegation made in the class-action suit.

Lincoln's attorneys had sought to have the case removed to federal court. Such requests are typically based on attorneys' belief that another court would be a more favorable venue for their client.

Lincoln's attorney, Terry Bird, downplayed Judge Letts' decision to send the case back to state court. "We do not consider it to be a significant development in the case," he said. "It's still the beginning of the case. When we have the opportunity to present evidence to a jury, we'll be able to prove and I believe the jury will ultimately decide that Lincoln did not provide defective products and that the causes of the fractures involved many factors other than the electrodes (the welding product used to fuse the beams and columns) used in the construction of these buildings."

Chiate said the building-owner plaintiffs have recently amended their complaint to add Flath & Tuthill Construction Inc. and Lewis Jorge Construction Management Inc. as defendants. Chiate said these companies had been involved in construction of the buildings using weld material supplied by Lincoln.

While no steel-frame buildings collapsed in the Northridge quake, follow-up inspections uncovered a large number of cracks in the welds used to tie together the frames' columns and beams.

The Los Angeles City Council subsequently required about owners of about 260 steel-frame buildings on the city's Westside and in the San Fernando Valley to implement costly joint-inspection and repair programs.

These buildings are the focus of the class-action suit.

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