Jury Awards $35.1 Million to Retired U.S. Navy Boiler Tender

Jury Awards $35.1 Million to Retired U.S. Navy
Boiler Tender Exposed to Asbestos

Verdict Is One of LA County’s Largest Ever in an Asbestos Case;

LOS ANGELES — October 17, 2007 — A Los Angeles County jury late last week handed down a $35.1 million verdict to a 74-year-old retired U.S. Navy boiler tender, validating that his exposure to asbestos in pump, valve and pipe parts more than five decades ago is the direct cause of the deadly mesothelioma he suffers with today.

The verdict is among one of the largest-ever awards in Los Angeles County for a plaintiff in a Navy asbestos exposure case. The verdict includes $100,000 for economic damages; $25 million to the victim for pain and suffering; and $10 million to the victim’s wife for loss of consortium. Leslie Controls and Warren Pumps were each assessed 7.1 percent liability. The judge disallowed consideration of punitive damages.

The plaintiff, John R. “Jack” Davis, was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in January 2007. A native of Idaho, Davis served as a fireman and boiler tender aboard the U.S.S. DeHaven for 4 years during the Korean War. Following his honorable discharge in 1955, he worked for American Pipe and Steel, and Sound Control Company, before being hired by Shell Oil in 1956. He worked at Shell refineries in Dominguez and Wilmington, Calif., until 1963.

In 1964, Davis returned to Idaho, where he worked for Philip Petroleum and successive contractors at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL) while studying college-level electronics and computers. He retired from INEEL in 1995. Until his mesothelioma diagnosis earlier this year, he and his wife, Janette, enjoyed an active retirement that revolved around family, sports and outdoor activities with his two children, five grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

In his testimony, the soft-spoken and affable plaintiff described his work as a boiler tender in the aft engine room of the U.S.S. DeHaven. He explained that he had volunteered for the assignment — considered to be one of the least desirable aboard ship in cramped, hot and dirty quarters.

He also asserted that he would have protected himself had he known the danger of being exposed to the asbestos in the myriad small pump and valve components that he handled daily, both as a boiler tender in the Navy, and for a short period after as a pipefitter and instrument man in the private sector.

Davis clearly identified the products he handled as manufactured and branded by Leslie Controls and Warren Pumps.

The defense argued that responsibility for Davis’ illness lie with the U.S. Navy and subsequent employers, not the manufacturers. The defense also attempted to argue that Davis’ radiation exposure while employed at INEEL was a cause or contributing factor to his mesothelioma diagnosis. The judge disallowed the argument due to a lack of medical and scientific evidence.

The defense, in its closing argument, challenged the jury to “knock a zero off” whatever award they might consider for the plaintiff. The jury was asked to consider what amount of money would really be necessary to allow the Davises to live comfortably given their age and life expectancy.

Mike Armitage, managing partner of WK’s Los Angeles office commented, “The defense’s closing argument was brazen. Here is a good man, a hard-working man, a loving husband, and a model father. He served his country loyally and honorably without question, then spent a lifetime bettering himself to support his family. His reward? It’s essentially a death sentence that was totally avoidable had the manufacturers only made the effort to warn workers to protect themselves.”

“No, this case wasn’t about living comfortably,” said Gary M. Paul, a WK partner and lead attorney on the case. “It was about justice.”

The case was referred to Waters & Kraus by Dorsett Law Offices in Austin, Texas.

Update: On September 30, 2010 the appellate court affirmed the judgment against defendants based on reduction of the jury award from $35M to $5M.


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 the Metropolitan D.C./Baltimore area, Waters & Kraus has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.

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