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Jury awards $32 million for Navy vet's mesothelioma

An 18-year Navy veteran who developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos on Navy vessels has received a substantial jury verdict in his lawsuit against two industrial manufacturing companies that provided asbestos-laden valves, gaskets and boiler assemblies for the ships he served on. The New York jury awarded the vet $16 million in compensation for past pain and suffering and an additional $16 million for future pain and suffering.

The vet served on Navy ships from 1960 to 1977, working as a fireman and boiler tender. In his mesothelioma lawsuit, he claimed he was exposed to asbestos in two ways. First, he was exposed when he repaired valves that had been manufactured by Crane Co. Second, he was exposed when he replaced manhole gaskets and lagging pads using products manufactured by Elliott Turbomachinery Co.

The companies had initially asserted defenses that would have released them from any liability -- the government contractor defense and the "sophisticated user doctrine," as well as attempting to have the Navy itself listed on the jury verdict form. The New York County Supreme Court judge denied the defendants' defenses and request.

Crane Co. also argued that the vet had never been exposed to asbestos products manufactured by Crane, but instead that any asbestos he encountered came from replacement parts not produced by the company.

After an eight-week trial in which the vet's attorneys called four expert witnesses, however, the jury found Crane Co. 99 percent liable and Elliott Turbomachinery 1 percent liable for the vet's mesothelioma.

Crane Co. intends to appeal the verdict on two grounds. First, the company argues, a $32-million verdict is so excessively high for a mesothelioma case that it is in "clear violation of New York appellate case law." Crane indicates it will ask the trial judge to reduce the award to approximately $3 million, which Crane's attorney says is a more typical award.

Second, Crane argues that the case brings up four important issues in New York asbestos litigation that have never been heard by the state's appellate courts. Therefore, it plans to appeal the verdict in order to settle the issues, which include:

  • Whether a manufacturer can be held liable for mesothelioma it claims was caused by asbestos in replacement parts it did not manufacture
  • Whether government contractors can be held liable for military service members' mesothelioma
  • Whether the "sophisticated user doctrine" can be asserted in such cases
  • Whether the Navy or other armed services should be included as potentially liable parties on jury verdict forms

The vet's attorney said in a statement that the verdict "represents all that a just and civil society can do to redress the harm caused by culpable companies."

Source: Thomson Reuters News & Insight, "New York jury awards $32 million in Navy mesothelioma suit," Sept. 16, 2011

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