Every asbestos lawyer knows that getting a big jury verdict doesn’t actually mean you won anything. Asbestos companies always appeal their losses, and the appellate courts can easily wipe out a great asbestos verdict. In fact, they often do. So I was happy to see an asbestos plaintiff win an appeal.
In November of 2010, the Second District Court of Appeal for California upheld a $9.2 million dollar mesothelioma verdict. That award included $6 million dollars in punitive damages. If an award of punitive damages is too large, appellate courts will often overturn the verdict.
This mesothelioma lawsuit was filed by an individual who worked as a construction worker beginning in the 1960’s. He worked around large amounts of joint compound, including joint compound that contained asbestos fibers mined by Union Carbide Corporation. Joint compounds in the 1960’s and 1970’s often contained asbestos. The process of sanding drywall seams releases massive quantities of asbestos fibers, and thus individuals who worked in the construction trades often developed illnesses from exposure to asbestos.
Union Carbide Corporation was found to be 85% at fault, and Hamilton Materials was found to be 15% at fault. Together, the companies will be 100% responsible for satisfying the entire $9.2 million dollar verdict.
Not all asbestos lawsuits end with such a large verdict, but many against Union Carbide in particular have. That’s because there is quite a bit of evidence that Union Carbide sold raw asbestos (they called theirs Calidria) well past the point in time when they knew that raw asbestos could cause mesothelioma, asbestosis, and other cancers.
The name of the case is Larry R. Stewart, et al., v. Union Carbide Corporation, No. B216193,
Calif. App., 2nd Dist., Div. 5; 2010 Cal. App.
On November 12th of 2010, an Onondaga County jury returned a $1 million dollar verdict in a mesothelioma lawsuit filed against John Crane. The lawsuit was filed by a gentleman who worked on tugboats as early as 1954. During the years he worked on a tugboat, he was exposed to gaskets and packing material that contained asbestos.
Asbestos lawsuits like this are fairly common. For many years, gaskets and packing material used in marine valves and pumps contained asbestos. Individuals who worked with those valves and pumps often became exposed to the asbestos by scraping or otherwise cleaning out older gaskets and packing material. The confined areas of ships makes it even more likely that asbestos fibers will be recirculated for other crew members to breathe.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff in this lawsuit, the money came too late. He died before the verdict, but his wife continued the lawsuit. One of the things that I do as an asbestos lawyer is to talk to my clients and their families about whether they would like to continue their asbestos lawsuit if the injured person passes away before a jury can render a verdict. It’s always better to sort details like that out while the injured person is still alive and able to make decisions.
The name of the case was Richard Schuderer, et al. v. John Crane Inc., et al., and the case number was 2008-8545.
On November 3rd of 2010, a West Virginia jury found that a pipefitter’s mesothelioma was caused by exposure to John Crane gaskets. The attorneys for both parties entered into a confidential agreement in which John Crane would pay a specific amount of money if they were found liable by the jury. Because that agreement was triggered, the jury did not need to decide how much money to award.
The jury was made up entirely of women, which is unusual. It’s rare that a jury is made up entirely of one gender. The trial lasted for six days, and the jurors only needed about two hours to determine that John Crane was liable.
John Crane made gaskets that contained chrysotile asbestos. John Crane argued that the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was actually caused by exposure to large amounts of amosite asbestos pipe covering. The plaintiff worked for over 40 years as a union pipefitter, and it is therefore very likely that he was exposed to a large amount of amosite. Amosite is generally considered to be more carcinogenic that chrysotile asbestos.
This case therefore had the same factual issue that many asbestos lawsuits have: determining which company’s asbestos caused a person to develop mesothelioma when the individual was exposed to asbestos from multiple companies. Although there may be a few quacks out there who claim otherwise, no reputable doctor claims to be able to determine which exposure caused a cancer to develop.
Because science cannot answer that question, courts usually adopt some sort of a “substantial contributing factor” test in which multiple companies can be found liable if each of them made asbestos that substantially contributed to an individual’s illness.
The case was Robert L. Wood, et al. v. John Crane Inc., et al., No. 10-C-91, W.Va. Cir., Kanawha Co.).