U.S. Navy Widow Awarded $1.4M in Long-Term Asbestos-Exposure Case
Elliott Turbomachinery Co., Inc., Crane Co., and John Crane, Inc. Found Liable for Product Defects
LOS ANGELES – April 24, 2009 – An LA County jury has awarded $1.4 million to the widow of a career U.S. Navy serviceman who developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure aboard naval vessels. The seaman served his entire two-decade career – from 1959 through his retirement in 1980 – as a machinist’s mate.
The verdict, which awarded the family of Earl Ogle Haupt, III $450,861 in economic damages, and $1.0 million for loss of consortium, was announced on April 21.
Mr. Haupt’s job involved maintaining, repairing and overhauling pumps, valves and mechanical systems within naval steam propulsion systems, as well as their myriad asbestos-containing component parts aboard the USS Intrepid, USS Essex, and USS Gurke. The work exposed him 8-10 hours daily over many years to massive volumes of asbestos dust in tight, unventilated quarters.
Via video deposition, Mr. Haupt recalled in sharp detail the types and brands of valves, pumps, gaskets, packing, and insulation he handled, as well as the precise processes he followed to remove, repair, and re-install equipment components aboard ship. He remembered breathing copious amounts of dust without any type of protective breathing apparatus and no knowledge that the dust was deadly, despite having read numerous instruction sheets and product manuals over the course of his career. Had he known of the hazard, he recounted, he certainly would have heeded the warning to protect his health, and ultimately, his life.
The jury found Elliott Turbomachinery Co., Inc., Crane Co., and John Crane, Inc. liable for defective product design.
“We’re pleased for the family,” said WKP attorney and lead trial counsel Brent Zadorozny. “Navy asbestos-exposure cases are always challenging, but this one was especially so in light of the recent Taylor decision.”
The decision by the California Court of Apeal in Taylor vs. Crane Co., handed down just last month, 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 thrird party.
WKP partner Gary Paul explained, “Taylor lets manufacturers off the hook for what they have known about the dangers of asestos since the 1940s, but were reticent to share for decades with unknowing consumers.”
“Even in cases where the manufacturer’s product design calls specifically for an asbestos-based component, the appellate court has decided that the maker has no duty to warn the consumer of the subcomponent or its lethal effects, and can not be found negligent for that failure to warn. It’s taken the concept of ‘consumer beware’ to a new, dangerous extreme,” Mr. Paul continued.
“In the end, justice prevailed,” said Mr. Zadorozny. “Mrs. Haupt is grateful to the jury for sorting through the subtleties of the law and holding these defendants accountable for her husband’s devastating illness and cruel death,” said Mr. Zadorozny.
Earl O. Haupt, III died in December 2006 at the age of 66, after 20 years and six months of honorable service to the Navy, and less than six months after being diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma. He and his wife were raising two young grandchildren, ages 4 and 8, at the time of his death.
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, particularly asbestos-mesothelioma. In addition to toxic tort litigation, the firm’s diverse practice includes pharmaceutical product liability, negligence, elder financial abuse, and consumer product liablity, 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.