Mesothelioma Patient Awarded $8.465 Million In California Asbestos Exposure Case
Union Carbide and CalPortland Found Liable
LOS ANGELES — A California superior court has ordered Union Carbide and CalPortland to pay $8.465 million to a career painter and handyman whose exposure to asbestos-containing products left him with pleural malignant mesothelioma — a highly aggressive type of cancer that can take decades to appear, yet typically claims the lives of its victims within a matter of months once a diagnosis has been made. Asbestos exposure is the only known cause.
Bernard Steffen, now 69, held a series of jobs dating back to the 1960s in which he was frequently exposed to asbestos-laden products — including joint compound containing asbestos supplied by Union Carbide and plastic cement produced by CalPortland. Mr. Steffen was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2010.
The lead plaintiff’s attorney in the case was Scott Frost, a partner at Waters Kraus & Paul — the West Coast practice of Water & Kraus. He was assisted by attorney Tae Kim.
“This was a little different than the normal asbestos case in that one of the defendants, Union Carbide, was a supplier of the asbestos to another company,” explained Frost. Asbestos supplied by Union Carbide was used in a joint compound manufactured by Hamilton Materials, which has since gone bankrupt.
“Their contention was that they can’t control how the asbestos is used in somebody else’s product, so they shouldn’t be held responsible,” said Frost. “Our contention was that they made an unreasonably dangerous product, and that they should have never sold it. And if they did sell it, they needed to make sure that the manufacturers they sold it to were warning properly.”
According to court documents, Mr. Steffen began to experience coughing in April 2010 and went to a doctor to have it checked. He also experienced weakness, fatigue, shortness of breath, and chest pain. Doctors removed fluid from Mr. Steffen’s lungs and performed a biopsy, which yielded his initial diagnosis of mesothelioma. Further procedures in May confirmed that Mr. Steffen was suffering from pleural malignant mesothelioma. In an effort to eradicate the tumor, doctors conducted an extrapleural pneumonectomy.
“They basically took out his lung to try to get rid of the tumor,” Frost said. “It’s called a radical surgery. But in Mr. Steffen’s case, it was not only radical, but it almost killed him. He spent about eight weeks in the hospital after the surgery which is not the norm. He basically died once or twice afterward, but they were able to resuscitate him.”
Mr. Steffen has suffered extreme weight loss and must remain on oxygen. He is unable to leave his home due to frequent severe fits of coughing, and he can no longer work, travel, or attend religious or social functions. Despite Mr. Steffen’s deteriorating health, Scott Frost said the plaintiff and his family are pleased with the verdict.
“They were very happy that the jury came back in their favor, and were extremely satisfied with the representation we gave them in the case. But it really wasn’t about the money for them. It was about making sure the companies responsible were held responsible,” Frost said. “I think this case lets companies know that they’re going to be held responsible for their conduct — whether it’s today, tomorrow, or 30 years from now.”
Judge Yvette M. Palazuelos presided in the trial, which began on April 29, 2011. The $8,465,738 verdict, announced June 20, includes past and future economic damages of $1,963,738 along with non-economic damages of $6,502,000.
About Waters Kraus & Paul
Waters Kraus & Paul is the west Coast practice of Waters Kraus & Paul, LLP — a nationally recognized plaintiffs’ firm concentrating on complex product liability and personal injury/wrongful death cases. The firm’s diverse practice includes toxic tort litigation (mesothelioma-asbestos), qui tam (whistleblower) cases, and pharmaceutical and medical product liability litigation, among others. With offices in California, Texas, and Maryland, Waters Kraus & Paul, LLP has litigated cases in jurisdiction across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.