By: Michael Seinberg
We all know that exposure to asbestos can cause all sorts of nasty health problems, but a new ruling by a New York Supreme Court justice now shows that even talking about the substance can have serious mental repercussions.
It seems one Ronald Dummitt and his very talented lawyer sued Crane Co. and managed to win a record-setting jury award due to his contracting mesothelioma. He claims this occurred due to his service in the Navy from 1960 to 1977 (the disease reared its ugly head in 2009). During his service, Mr. Dummitt claims he was exposed to asbestos and blames Crane, which supplied valves to the Navy, which Mr. Dummit claims to have worked on. But here’s the funny part: Crane argues it is not liable as it did not manufacture, supply or place into the stream of commerce any of the asbestos containing products to which Mr. Dummitt was exposed.
Yes, you read that right, Crane made valves made of metal. They never made or supplied anything that was made of asbestos. Now, to be fair, some of their valves were installed using asbestos containing gaskets, but they were supplied to the Navy by another company. That being said, Mr. Dummitt’s attorney argued that Crane had a responsibility to warn people of the dangers of asbestos. By not doing so, Crane showed reckless disregard for the safety of the end user and was thus 99 percent liable for Mr. Dummitt’s sickness and ultimate death. The fact that he worked with asbestos for 17 years that came from any number of sources did not seem to sway the jury.
The jury bought this liability-without-causality argument, and awarded $32 million to the plaintiff and his lawyer ($16 million for prior pain and suffering and $16 million for future pain and suffering). When Crane appealed the verdict and asked that it be set aside, the judge denied the motion but did reduce the award to $8 million.
To put that $32 million figure into perspective, it was the largest product liability verdict in NY in 2011 and the 4th largest verdict in the state that year. The reduced amount of $8 million represents one of the largest sustained verdicts in NY asbestos litigation.
The asbestos feeding frenzy by the plaintiff’s bar has led to the demise of about 80 companies so far. While nobody argues asbestos is nasty stuff, the sheer insanity of the ruling, the size of the awards and the overarching greed of the attorneys in these cases has gotten way out of hand. We need transparency in asbestos litigation, clearer guidelines on product liability and a huge injection of sanity and common sense before the plaintiff’s bar decides to start suing anyone who even prints the word asbestos. Oops…..