Jury Awards $25.7M to Homemaker for Household Exposure to Asbestos
Alcoa Inc. assessed 100% responsibility
DALLAS — October 28, 2005 — A Dallas County jury awarded $25.7 million to a woman suffering from pleural mesothelioma as a result of laundering her husband’s work clothes laden with asbestos dust.
The jury found Wednesday that Pittsburgh-based Alcoa Inc., acted with gross negligence in failing to protect its workers — and by extension, workers’ families — against the harmful effects of asbestos in the workplace. The jury also rejected the defense notion that Barbara Behringer’s mesothelioma was not caused by asbestos as evidenced by the relatively low number of women diagnosed with the disease.
Mrs. Behringer’s first husband, John Alford, was a pot tender at Alcoa’s Rockdale, Texas, aluminum smelter operation during the 1950s. Mr. Alford was daily exposed to large amounts of asbestos and dust produced while relining smelting pots. Mrs. Behringer subsequently breathed the asbestos particles as she shook out the dusty clothes and checked pockets during her twice-weekly washing of Mr. Alford’s work uniforms.
“The extension of a duty to protect third parties is a significant outcome,” said Jeffrey Simon, a Waters Kraus & Paul partner and lead plaintiffs’ counsel. “So, too, is the jury’s finding that Alcoa knew of the harmful effects of asbestos at least as early as the 1940s, before the medical establishment officially gave a name to the condition we know today as ‘mesothelioma.’” He continued, “The jury focused on the fact that regardless of when the term ‘mesothelioma‘ came into fashion, it has only one known cause: asbestos…and there is no safe level of exposure.”
Mrs. Behringer was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in November 2003, after her former husband’s death from lung cancer and asbestosis. Despite her ill health, Mrs. Behringer attended court on several days and testified on her own behalf. The jury found Alcoa 100% liable for her illness. They awarded her $13.7 million in compensatory damages, which includes $1.5 million to her current husband, Leroy Behringer, for loss of household services and consortium. Punitive damages totaled $12.0 million.
“We are so proud of Barbara,” said Michelle Norton, the Waters Kraus & Paul associate who assisted Mr. Simon in litigating the case. She not only saw justice through, but helped countless other meso victims by showing that you don’t have to wear a hard hat or a tool belt to be affected by this deadly disease.”
About Waters Kraus & Paul, LLP
Waters Kraus & Paul, LLP, is a plaintiffs’ firm concentrating on complex product liability and personal injury/wrongful death cases. The firm’s diverse practice includes toxic tort litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistleblower) and commercial litigation. With offices in Texas, California and Maryland, Waters Kraus & Paul has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.