Verdict is First-Ever Against Rockwell Automation, Inc. in a Mesothelioma Case
PHILADELPHIA – March 11, 2010 – A Philadelphia jury has found Rockwell Automation Inc., sued as successor to Allen-Bradley Company, liable for the asbestos-related death of Navy electrician’s mate, David Lanpher. The liability finding is the first-ever asbestos-exposure verdict against Rockwell.
The case was tried as a reverse bifurcated proceeding – a multi-phase trial that requires the jury to determine first if the plaintiff’s mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure, and if so, what amount of damages is reasonable to compensate for pain, suffering, loss of consortium, and other circumstances related to the plaintiff’s illness. In Phase I, defendants remain unknown to the jury, and plaintiff’s counsel is not permitted to discuss or make recommendations about the scope or amount of the award.
Phase II, the liability hearing , occurs if the jury finds that the plaintiff’s illness was indeed caused by asbestos exposure. In Phase II, the jury hears evidence about the asbestos-containing products identified by the plaintiff, and determines which – if any – manufacturers are responsible for the plaintiff’s illness. This in turn, directs how many manufacturers are apportioned a share of the damages awarded in Phase I.
In Lanpher vs. Alfa Laval, Inc., the jury found Rockwell – the lone defendant at verdict – to be one of eight manufacturers responsible for Mr. Lanpher’s asbestos exposure and subsequent mesothelioma. As such, Rockwell is responsible for one-eighth, or 12.5 percent, of the $6.5 million awarded to the Lanpher family.
Phase I concluded on February 19, 2010. The final verdict was delivered on March 5, 2010, at the end of Phase II.
Mr. Lanpher, an active and gainfully employed 71-year-old husband, father and grandfather, had reportedly been in perfect health prior to his diagnosis of malignant pleural mesothelioma in August 2007. He died on July 13, 2008 – less than one year later, and just one day after completing the video deposition in which he sharply recalled the types, names and brands of the asbestos-containing products that caused his illness and cut short his life.
Via video deposition, Mr. Lanpher recounted enlisting in the U.S. Navy in 1954. During his 20-year career as an electrician’s mate, he worked in the engineering spaces of the USS Chemung, USS Randolph, USS Remey, USS Brough, USS Dashell, USS Benewah, and USS Wright. His assignments required him to handle various engine parts and components, including asbestos-containing insulating boards and motor control units. He recalled cutting and filing parts, including asbestos-containing motor control units manufactured and sold by Allen-Bradley, and the dust that he regularly breathed in tight quarters. He was honorably discharged in 1973, and worked as an electrician in Phoenix, Arizona, until he became too ill to work in 2007.
Mr. Lanpher’s wife, Pauline, and daughter and son-in-law, Nancy and Terry Perkins, traveled from Phoenix for the trial. The family was present during both Phase I and Phase II verdicts, and were relieved and satisfied with the trial’s outcome.
“This was a difficult case,” said Troyce Wolf, WK partner and lead trial attorney. “First, we were dealing with reverse bifurcation, where we can not so much as mention to the jury what might be considered a reasonable award. More significantly, we were also dealing with electrical components. These are a completely different and less-known-about product category than the mechanical components – the valves, pumps, gaskets, and the like – that we usually encounter in Navy asbestos exposure cases.”
The defense presented evidence that the Allen-Bradley products Mr. Lanpher identified were not on the Navy’s Qualified Products List (QPL), and therefore, were not aboard the vessels he worked on. A defense expert further testified that tests he conducted on the components demonstrated that the asbestos contained in the subassembly was encapsulated in a material that could not be breached in the way Mr. Lanpher described.
The jury disagreed, finding Rockwell both negligent and strictly liable for its failure to warn of the inherent dangers of its products. Evidence showed that Rockwell had known of the dangers of asbestos in the 1960s, but the company’s executives considered its products safe despite having never tested them.
“The victory is a credit to David Lanpher’s tremendous depth of recall, veracity and tenacity,” noted Demetrios Zacharopoulos, WK co-counsel. “And we are so pleased with the verdict. Today, we helped Pauline Lanpher keep her promise to David – that those responsible for his cruel and untimely death would be held accountable.” The Lanphers were 8 months shy of their 50th wedding anniversary at the time of David’s death.
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 (asbestos and mesothelioma) litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, negligence, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistleblower), and commercial litigation. With Offices in Maryland, Texas, and California, Waters & Kraus has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.