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Lockheed Settlement Ends Workers’ 5-Year Legal Battle : Litigation: The company will create a fund to pay employees who claimed they were injured by chemical exposure.

TIMES STAFF WRITER

Lockheed Corp.'s settlement of legal claims filed on behalf of 624 of its Burbank assembly workers ends a five-year battle over the workers’ allegations that the aerospace concern failed to protect them from harmful chemicals.

Although specific terms of last week’s settlement were not disclosed, Lockheed will deposit an undisclosed amount of cash into a fund from which the workers--or in some cases their heirs--will be paid based on an evaluation of their cases by three retired judges.

While not disclosing the fund’s size, Lockheed said it now believes that “there will not be a significant impact on earnings” from the settlement.

The claims included allegations of wrongful death involving 24 employees, said Lockheed’s outside lawyer, Gordon Krischer. All of the workers involved made their complaints in about 50 civil lawsuits and several hundred workers’ compensation claims, and both types of cases are covered under the settlement, he said. The settlement came as the first of the lawsuits was about to go to trial in Superior Court in Los Angeles.

The complaints, which began being filed in significant numbers in 1987, claimed that the workers were killed or injured by dangerous chemicals during most of the 1980s. The exposure occurred while the employees worked on such top-secret Lockheed projects as the F-117A Stealth fighter, built at the company’s famed “Skunk Works” facility, and other Burbank plants, the claims alleged.

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The workers accused Calabasas-based Lockheed of failing to protect them from exposure to resins, paints and other toxic materials, either by concealing data about the chemicals’ hazards or by not adequately shielding the workers in the plants.

Plastic-like composite materials, which were used to give the F-117A and other aircraft their stealthy, or radar-absorbing, qualities, came under particular attack by the plaintiffs.

In addition to the deaths, the workers complained of such ailments as chronic headaches, respiratory problems, cancer and dizziness, which they attributed to the exposure.

Lockheed, however, continues to deny any wrongdoing and said it settled the suits to avoid the cost of a lengthy trial, which could have been further complicated by national security concerns. It is unclear how federal prohibitions against publicizing classified data--which covers much of Lockheed’s defense work--might have affected evidence presented at the trial.

“Lockheed has made no admission of guilt, responsibility or impropriety,” Krischer said. “We continue to believe that people were not injured at Lockheed, that we provided adequate protection for employees and that this is the workers’ compensation system run amok.”

Announcement of the settlement came three years after Lockheed agreed to pay $1.49 million in penalties to the U.S. Department of Labor for 440 violations of workplace safety rules at its Burbank operation. Lockheed also agreed to correct those violations.


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