Jury Awards $5.2 Million to Long-Time U.S. Navy Machinist Exposed to Asbestos
Power Equipment Manufacturer Foster Wheeler
Found Liable for Failure to Warn; Jury Also Finds Malice
LOS ANGELES — May 24, 2007 — A Los Angeles jury yesterday found power equipment manufacturer Foster Wheeler liable for the mesothelioma death of 60-year-old Richard Walmach. Foster Wheeler is a global engineering and construction conglomerate, and a long-time supplier of boilers, steam generators and related equipment systems to the U.S. Navy.
Mr. Walmach, who died in June 2006 of pleural mesothelioma, was a career machinist mate. He spent a short stint in the U.S. Navy from 1967 to 1969. He then continued to work at naval shipyards and in machine shops around the country from 1965 until 2002.
Mr. Walmach testified posthumously via video deposition that he did not work directly on the boilers or steam generators, but was often present when the asbestos insulation was being removed from boilers undergoing repair. This labor-intensive process involved chiseling and jack-hammering the insulation away from the boiler unit, which generated copious amounts of asbestos dust — deadly dust that he breathed daily over the course of his 37-year career.
Evidence was offered that Foster Wheeler clearly knew of the dangers of asbestos and its link to deadly lung diseases as early as 1968. An internal memorandum proposed that company define maximum dust levels for fibrous insulation installation, and stressed the importance of respirator use among its own employees. Yet the company chose not to warn consumers of the danger through product labeling.
Richard Walmach said that had he been aware of the risk posed by asbestos exposure — even as a so-called bystander — he would have chosen another line of work. He was diagnosed with early signs of mesothelioma in 2002 as a relatively young 56-year-old retiree. When a definitive diagnosis of mesothelioma came in 2005, he survived just 16 months, leaving behind a wife, two daughters, a son, and three grandchildren.
“This was a difficult case to try, and we couldn’t be happier for the family,” said Peter Kraus, co-founder of Waters & Kraus, LLP.
Co-founding partner Andy Waters, explained, “There’s a general public misconception that the U.S. Navy — who readily admits that they knew decades ago how deadly asbestos is but did nothing about it — is responsible for the harm they exposed their sailors to. But legally, the Navy is completely immune. Asbestos defendants who supplied the Navy have been fairly successful in making the case that if the Navy didn’t think it necessary to protect their own sailors, why should that responsibility fall to the manufacturer?”
“This jury was able to move beyond that issue,” he continued. “In fact, they found that Foster Wheeler acted with malice in failing to warn consumers of the dangers of the asbestos used in and around their products.”
“This case represents a milestone for plaintiffs in Navy exposure cases,” commented Sean Tracey, the WK partner who tried the case. “It shows that these cases do have merit and can be won. This is a huge victory for the Walmachs and all Naval families who have been affected by this devastating illness as a result of their service to this country.”
An appeal filed by Foster Wheeler is currently pending.
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 litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, malpractice and negligence, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistle-blower), employment and labor, insurance and commercial litigation. With offices in California, Texas, and the Metropolitan D.C./Baltimore area, Waters & Kraus has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.