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Lawyers Advise Schools in Suit To Preserve Asbestos Samples

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Officials of schools that are part of the comprehensive asbestos product-liability lawsuit filed six years ago should consider preserving a sample of each type of the hazardous material removed from their buildings, lawyers for both the asbestos manufacuturers named in the suit and the schools say.

In a letter to be sent this spring to schools represented in the massive class action, officials will be advised to save these samples as a way of providing product identification at the trial, which is not due to start for another year.

The suit, In Re: School Asbestos Litigation, was filed in U.S. Dis4trict Court in Philadelphia in 1983 on behalf of all schools against 51 former asbestos makers. The class action was made voluntary in 1984, and by late 1987, approximately 1,500 of the nation's 36,000 public and private schools had opted out. (See Education Week, Jan. 13, 1988.)

According to the letter, which was requested by the lawyers representing the former asbestos manufacturers and whose wording was approved by the schools' lawyers, schools should preserve all bulk samples of asbestos already collected during previous inspections.

They should also take samples of all asbestos-containing materials8they seek to remove, enclose, or repair and for which they intend to claim damages, according to the letter.

"If you do not preserve relevant evidence, including samples of each product," it states, "certain defendants may assert at trial that you are precluded from recovering any damages."

Thomas F. Hughes, one of the lawyers representing the schools, said he felt it was "probably in the school's best interest to preserve the samples."

He added, however, that the defendants probably will offer to settle the suit before it comes to trial. In that event, product identification would not be required.--ef

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