Officially, John A. Ulizio is the CEO of U.S. Silica, one of the nation’s largest producers of industrial sand. Unofficially, he’s the man who fought the tort bar — and won. It’s a singular distinction in the world of runaway lawsuits.
Clad in a hardhat and boots, standing in a quarry in which giant haul trucks carry Flintstone-sized boulders, the 53-year-old Mr. Ulizio seems an unlikely foe of today’s slick plaintiffs’ bar. The son of a Pennsylvania steel worker, he is blunt-spoken, works in a little-noticed industry, and likes to point out he’s a Democrat (“probably the only one in the building.”) What a cursory observation of Mr. Ulizio misses is his own law degree, and his steely sense of right and wrong.
In 2003 alone — the year he took the company’s top job — U.S. Silica was served with nearly 20,000 lawsuits claiming it had caused silicosis — a serious, if rare, lung disease. The tort bar saw silica as the “new asbestos,” says Mr. Ulizio, and he had visions of his century-old concern going bankrupt, along with dozens of others.