Jury Awards $1.75M to Naval Worker’s Widow in Asbestos-Mesothelioma Case
Confidential Settlement Reached Prior to Jury’s Determination of Punitive Damages Against Elliott Company
LOS ANGELES — December 17, 2007 — A Los Angeles County jury has determined that a shipfitter who worked at the Pier 32nd Street U.S. Naval repair station in San Diego during the 1960s and 1970s contracted the deadly asbestos cancer known as mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos-containing gaskets, valves and other components contained in forced-draft blowers and turbines manufactured by Elliott Company.
On December 11, the jury announced three findings of liability against Elliott in the wrongful death of 62-year-old Gerald Barlow: defective product design; failure to warn of the dangers of handling the asbestos-containing components without protective gear; and negligence. In addition, the jury unanimously found that Elliott acted with malice. However, a confidential and undisclosed settlement was reached before the jury could determine punitive damages against Elliott.
The judgment is thought to be the first-ever liability verdict against Elliott and the first punitive finding against the company in an asbestos case.
Barlow was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2005, and died of the disease 13 months later. He left behind a widow, Annette, seven children and several grandchildren. The jury awarded Mrs. Barlow $1.75 million, which included $422,658 for lost wages, $126,738 for medical expenses, and $1.2 million for loss of consortium. The settlement amount for punitive damages was confidential not disclosed.
The case focused on product identification. The deceased Gerald Barlow testified via video deposition that he recalled working on Elliott forced-draft blowers and turbines during routine maintenance of naval vessels at Pier 32 over a ten-year period dating to the mid-1960s. His testimony was corroborated in open court by Captain Francis Burger (U.S. Navy, retired), a navy expert who served as construction project manager for many vessels, including some of the ships Barlow worked on.
The defense argued that Barlow could not possibly have known the identity of the manufacturers of the products he worked on, nor had he worked on Elliott products. The defense also argued that even had Barlow worked on Elliott products, that the Navy should be held responsible for his asbestos exposure, not the manufacturer. The defense rationale on this point was four-fold: any asbestos in the defendant’s products was present due to Navy specifications; the Navy was responsible for warning about asbestos hazards because it controlled the environment on vessels; the Navy allegedly knew more about asbestos-related disease than did the manufacturers; and that the state of scientific knowledge was insufficient to require Elliott to warn of the dangers of asbestos exposure.
The jury ultimately assessed Elliott with 40-percent liability for Barlow’s wrongful death, and the U.S. Navy with zero liability.
“This was a difficult case,” said Thomas H. Hart III, lead counsel for Waters & Kraus. “Equipment manufacturers are taking a hard stance on product identification, and attacking it from every conceivable angle. We are obviously very pleased with the verdict, and especially so for the Barlows.”
About Waters & Kraus, LLP
Waters & Kraus, LLP, is a plaintiffs’ firm concentrating on complex product liability and personal injury/wrongful death cases. The firm’s diverse practice includes toxic tort litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, malpractice and negligence, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistle-blower), employment and labor, insurance and commercial litigation. With offices in California, Texas, and Maryland, Waters & Kraus has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.