Former Navy Electrician’s Mate Awarded $16.925M for Asbestos Exposure
Award Includes $1.925M in Economic Damages – Crane Co. Found Liable for Failure to Warn
LOS ANGELES – February 3, 2009 – An LA jury handed down a $16.925 million dollar verdict yesterday afternoon to a retired city manager, whose exposure to asbestos during a 4 year period from 1961 to 1965 as a U.S. Navy electrician’s mate caused the terminal mesothelioma he faces today.
This is the second verdict in four days for a Waters Kraus & Paul asbestos-mesothelioma client. Last Thursday, an LA jury awarded $8.02 million to a 62-year-old sales engineer who developed mesothelioma after on-the-job exposure to asbestos more than three decades ago.
In the current case, 66-year-old Dennis Woodard testified in open court about his 4-year tour of duty in the U.S. Navy. After basic training in 1961, he served approximately eight months aboard the USS Rogers as both a machinist’s mate and a fireman apprentice electrician.
As a machinist’s mate, Mr. Woodard worked in both forward- and aft- engine and boiler rooms. Here he was directly exposed to various high-temperature components – valves, steam lines, pumps and turbines – during routine repairs and maintenance that involved removing, replacing and re-installing parts that had asbestos-containing components or were sheathed in asbestos-containing insulation. It was a dirty and dusty job for which he wore no protective gear.
After attending electrician’s school, Mr. Woodard was assigned to the USS Salisbury Sound as an electrician’s mate. He served aboard the vessel for 33 months. His work again brought him in close proximity to asbestos-containing components in the ship’s four engine and boiler rooms.
Mr. Woodard was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in January 2008. His poor prognosis and rapidly declining health forced the active, affable father and grandfather to retire – just 90 days after diagnosis – from his job as city manager of Hewitt, Texas. Since that time, Mr. Woodard has undergone two radical surgeries (the removal of a lung and diaphragm) that leave him in constant pain. The court case was preferentially set for trial due to the extreme circumstances of Mr. Woodard’s illness.
Two defendants remained at verdict: Sepco Corporation and Crane Co. Attorneys for Sepco Corporation successfully argued that there were several companies named Sepco at the time Mr. Woodard was aboard Navy vessels, but this specific defendant did not supply its products to the U.S. Navy, and therefore has no libility in the case.
Attorneys for Crane Co. argued that the type of asbestos (chrysotile) and small amounts contained in the company’s products would not have caused Mr. Woodard’s cancer. They concluded that Mr. Woodard’s mesothelioma resulted from exposure to asbestos-containing pipe insulation manufactured by others – although one defense expert conceded that Crane Co. would certainly have known that asbestos insulation was being used with their products. The defense also argued that the Navy, as a “sophisticated user,” bore full responsibility for warning and protecting its sailors from the harmful effects of asbestos exposure.
“This verdict is just,” commented Gary Paul, WKP partner and lead trial attorney. “The jury clearly recognized the responsibility of industry, and not just the government, to protect people against the known dangers of their products.”
“The jury also awarded substantial economic damages to Dennis and his wife, Jeannie,” noted Mike Armitage, a WKP partner. “They recognized Dennis as an honorable, hardworking family man who had much more he wanted to acomplishe in life. That life has now been irreparably shortened from years to a few months. The real tragedy here is that his mesothelioma was preventable.”
Added Kevin Loew, WKP co-counsel, “Mrs. Woodard testified during trial that she would consider it her ‘greatest honor to help Dennis die with dignity.’ This verdict certainly goes far toward that goal.”
Daniel Wasserberg of Williams Kherkher Hart Boundas of Houston, Texas was also co-counsel for the Woodards.
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 liability, 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 govenrments.