Warner Bros. Craft Services Laborer Was Exposed to Joint Compound Dust on Film Production Sets
LOS ANGELES – June 23, 2008 – A Los Angeles County jury awarded the family of a craft services worker $5.4 million late Friday afternoon, June 20, 2008, affirming that the mesothelioma death of 62-year-old Ronald Saffold resulted from exposure to joint compound dust on film production sets during his 33-year career at Warner Bros.
Mr. Saffold joined the film studio in 1971, and spent his entire career as a craft services laborer. During his early tenure, he performed legwork and labor for sound engineers and electricians. The last 12 years of his career was spent doing cleanup on the lot. This involved cleanup in the mill and on sound stages as sets were built and torn down.
Saffold recalled via video deposition that joint compound was used extensively in set construction, and many features, such as columns, were made entirely of molded compound. Dust particles were often visible in the air. In addition to working in the vicinity where the joint compounds were being mixed, molded, applied and sanded, Saffold testified that cleanup was a messy affair that generated clouds of dust.
Uninformed and unaware of the hazards of this dust, he did not wear protective gear. He sharply recalled the brands of joint compound used since the bags were stacked in his work area.
The defense argued strenuously that joint compound does not cause mesothelioma, supported by defense expert testimony that “massive amounts” of chrysotile asbestos were necessary to cause injury. (Chrysotile is the type of asbestos contained in joint compound.) The defendants also denied their products were present at the locations that Saffold recalled.
In closing arguments, the defense asked the jury either to assess zero liability, or to assess 99 percent liability to the employer and split the remaining 1 percent among all joint compounds named by Mr. Saffold.
Not only did the jury not assess liability to any manufacturers other than the three remaining in the case at verdict, but they also found Bondex, Kaiser Gypsum, and Dowman liable for defective products, failure to warn and negligence.
Liabilities were assessed at 26 percent for Bondex, 26 percent for Kaiser Gypsum, and 23 percent for Dowman. The remaining 25 percent liability was assessed to the employer.
Saffold was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in October 2004 and died in December 2005. A lifelong non-smoker, Saffold had enjoyed good health prior to his mesothelioma diagnosis. His prior medical history included only a broken ankle.
“It’s a great victory for the Saffold family,” said Gary Paul, Waters & Kraus partner and lead trial attorney immediately following the verdict. “Here was an honest, hardworking man, as loyal as they come, looking forward to a well-deserved retirement.”
“But there was no retirement for Ronald Saffold, only a death sentence. And to think that his pain, suffering and untimely death could have been prevented if only the manufacturers had chosen to warn of the hazards of their products.”
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 (mesothelioma) litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, negligence, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistle-blower), commercial litigation. With offices in Texas, California, 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.