Shipyard Workers Suffer from Asbestos Cancers and Asbestosis

Fairfield Jury Awards $6.245 Million to 14 Asbestos Plaintiffs

SAN FRANCISCO — February 24, 1998 — A Fairfield jury awarded 14 plaintiffs of Vacaville, Fairfield, and Vallejo, California over $6,245,000 in damages. The 14 plaintiffs were comprised of seven families of workers who had died from asbestos-related cancers and seven individual workers who suffer from various degrees of non–malignant asbestos disease such as asbestosis.

Most of the decedents and workers had exposures to asbestos at Mare Island Naval Shipyard or Hunters Point Naval Shipyard. The defendant, Raymark Industries, Inc., formerly known as Raybestos–Manhattan, Inc., manufactured asbestos textiles and was a major supplier of these products to the Navy from the 1930s to the 1970s.

The trial began on October 20, 1997, before Judge Richard M. Harris. During the trial, evidence was presented that the decedents and workers used Raymark’s asbestos cloth products or were around asbestos pipe covering products and exposed to asbestos dust from those products. The jury heard how Raymark had direct knowledge of asbestos hazards associated with their products, dating to the 1930s, including the possibility of cancer, yet neither Raymark nor its industry affiliates in the trade organization Asbestos Textile Institute (ATI), including Johns–Manville and H.K. Porter Co., made any attempt to warn users about these health hazards or inform consumers, such as the Navy, of the dangers.

Four of the decedents died from mesothelioma, an invariably fatal cancer involving the lining of the lung. Though this cancer is rare in the general population, about 1,500–2,000 cases per year occur in people exposed to even relatively small amounts of asbestos. The average life expectancy after diagnosis is 12–18 months. The other decedents suffered from lung cancer and cor pulmonale, a failure of the right ventricle of the heart due to asbestosis lungs.

The jury awarded individual verdicts for the 14 cases ranging from $140,000 to $798,000. They found Raymark and its co-conspirators in the ATI to be 75% at fault in 12 of the cases, 45% at fault in one case, and 38% in another.

The $6.24 million verdict represents the compensatory damages assessed by the jury in the 14 cases. The jury also found that Raymark was guilty of oppression and malice in its conduct so that the jury will later be asked to assess additional punitive damages once they are presented evidence of Raymark’s financial condition.

The same jury will begin hearing 37 more asbestos cases against Raymark on March 24, 1998. Once they have determined the compensatory damages in these cases, they will then make their assessments of punitive damages.

Gilbert Purcell, of Novato, the plaintiffs’ trial attorney stated, “These deserving plaintiffs are pleased with the verdicts. The jury properly compensated them for the severe injuries workers can receive when working around asbestos. The jury also sent a message that manufacturers must adequately warn workers about the dangers inherent in their products and failure to do so will not be tolerated.”

Mr. Purcell went on to state, “The tragedy caused by asbestos companies continues to reveal a dark side of corporate practice affecting the lives of innocent, hard-working people. Everyday our firm is contacted by workers and their families who are suffering from fatal asbestos diseases. These diseases are caused by asbestos exposure occurring over 20 years ago and often times the workers are unaware of the asbestos exposure and were never aware of any danger. Sadly, had asbestos manufacturers like Raymark conducted themselves responsibly instead of operating with a disregard for the safety of users of their products, asbestos diseases would never have occurred in these workers.”

The plaintiffs were represented by Gilbert L. Purcell of Brayton Purcell LLP of Novato, California.