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U.S. Navy Machinist’s Mate Awarded $12.1M in 1960s Asbestos-Exposure Case

U.S. Navy Machinist’s Mate Awarded $12.0M in 1960s Asbestos-Exposure Case

Jury Finds John Crane, Inc. and Lone Star Industries, Inc. Responsible for Product Defects and Failure to Warn

LOS ANGELES – May 11, 2009 – An LA County jury has awarded $12.006 million to a U.S. Navy serviceman who was exposed to asbestos during a single tour of duty in the early 1960s.

The plaintiff in the case is Charles H. Cundiff, a 66-year-old retired truck driver who is terminally ill with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma is an insidious disease with a singel known cause: asbestos exposure. Mr. Cundiff’s exposure occurred during his time as a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Kitty Hawk from 1962 to 1966.

The verdict was announced on May 6, after five days of jury deliberation. Mr. Cundiff was awarded $10 million for pain and suffering and $506,000 in economic damages for lost wages. His wife, Glenda “Joyce” Cundiff, was awarded $1.5 million for loss of consortium.

The jury found manufacturer John Crane, Inc. and supplier Lone Star Industries liable for both defective products and failure to warn. John Crane was assessed 5 percent liability; Lone Star was assigned 19 percent.

Lead trial attorney Gary M. Paul called the verdict notable, saying, “Today’s verdict, right on the heels of the Haupt verdict, demonstrates that the Taylor decision does not result in justice being denied to the asbestos-exposed plaintiff. On the contrary, the jury found fault with both manufacturer and supplier, and not just for defective product, but also for failure to warn. This demonstrates that a strong case with clear product ID can extend the scope of responsibility to all vendors in the supply chain, including third parties, who knowingly provide harmful products to unsuspecting consumers.”

The decision by the California Court of Appeal in Taylor vs. Crane Co. releases manufacturers from a duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos-containing components used in their products if those subcomponents are manufactured or supplied by a third party.

Mr. Cundiff was too ill to take the witness stand. His testimony was presented via depostion, in which he detailed his work aboard the USS Kitty Hawk  during a four year tour of duty which included a nine month overhaul in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. This work involved cleaning, repairing and replacing valves, pumps, gaskets, packings and the use of Insulag insulating cement in the No. 2 and No. 4 engine rooms. It was dirty and dusty work that generated large amounts of asbestos dust that he breathed with no protection.

The close-up work allowed him to recall product brand names stamped into the components. John Crane Inc. was among  the product names he encountered. He also recalled seeing trucks with the Pioneer Sand & Gravel name pulling into the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard carrying bags of Insulag. Pioneer, a predecessor of Lone Star Industries, was a supplier of Insulag, an industrial insulation product used widely at the time.

The defense attempted to discredit Mr. Cundiff by asserting that Insulag was not used in the overhaul of the Kitty Hawk, and in fact, was not among the approved products that appeared on the Qualified Products List – or QPL – published by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD). In addition, the defense claimed, had Insulag been delivered to the site, it would not have been delivered in the manner described by Mr. Cundiff.

The testimony proved otherwise. During cross-examination, defense expert Thomas McCaffrey admitted that, in fact, there was no DoD Qualified Products List in existence at the time of Mr. Cundiff’s service. Additionally, a rebuttal witness – who worked at the shipyard for nearly two decades and had not known Mr. Cundiff – corroborated the sailor’s recollection of the manner in which the Insulag product was used, as well as deliveries to Puget Sound Naval Shipyard by Pioneer trucks.

WKP partner Mike Armitage commented, “Mr. Cundiff’s recollection of brands and suppliers was sharp, honest, and in the end, indisputable. Charles Cundiff’s intergrity won the day. His courage and tenacity give hope to other Navy families facing the deadly course of mesothelioma due to asbestos exposure.”

About Waters Kraus & Paul

Waters Kraus & Paul is the West Coast practice of Waters & Kraus, LLP – a nationally recognized plaintiffs’ firm concentrating on complex product liability and personal injury/wrongful death cases, particulary asbestos-mesothelioma. In addition to toxic tort litigation, the firm’s diverse practice includes pharmaceutical product liabilty, negligence, elder financial abuse, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistle-blower) 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.

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