Dying Machinist and Wife Awarded $4.5 Million; Largest Loss of Consortium Verdict in an Asbestos Trial
SAN FRANCISCO — October 28, 1998 — A San Francisco jury awarded Daniel Wilson, Sr. and his wife, Lois Wilson, $4,591,091.51 in damages. Daniel Wilson, Sr. 62 years old, suffers from a rare form of cancer, malignant mesothelioma, which is caused by asbestos. The defendant, John Crane, Inc. manufactured and supplied asbestos products, including packing and gaskets, which Daniel Wilson, Sr. used throughout most of his career working at southwestern United States power plants. Mr. Wilson presently lives in New Mexico.
The case was sent out for trial on July 8, 1998, the Honorable Douglas Munson presiding. A jury was sworn on July 22, 1998, and opening statements by counsel for both plaintiffs and defendant were given two days later. The actual presentation of evidence and witnesses did not begin until September 28, 1998.
In an effort to delay the trial of the Wilsons' case in San Francisco Superior Court, the defendant, John Crane, Inc. filed several motions which had a significant influence on the time when presentation of evidence commenced. The defendant first attempted to have the case dismissed based on the expiration of a New Mexico statute of limitations for products liability cases. Although initially successful at the trial court level, the First District Appellate Court overturned the ruling of the trial court by issuing an emergency writ of mandate directing the trial court to vacate its order of dismissal.
John Crane, Inc. also attempted to have the case delayed by removing it to Federal Court. After hearing arguments of counsel and considering the written briefs, the Honorable Judge Martin Jenkins of Federal District Court, Northern District of California, remanded the case to San Francisco Superior Court for trial. A motion for sanctions and attorneys fees for this improvident removal against John Crane, Inc. is pending.
Under California law, had Mr. Wilson died during these procedural delays, John Crane, Inc. would not have been liable for any of his pain and suffering damages which do not survive death.
During the trial, evidence was presented that Daniel Wilson, Sr. regularly installed and removed John Crane, Inc.'s, asbestos–containing packing and gasket products. Daniel Wilson, Sr. was exposed to the asbestos dust that emanated from those products. The jury heard from a co–worker who described the type of work that Mr. Wilson, performed and the conditions under which he regularly worked as a machinist during his career with Arizona Public Service, the utility company which owned and operated the power plants involved. The jury also heard from Mr. Wilson, and his wife about the effects that his debilitating disease has had on their lives.
Daniel Wilson, Sr. suffers from mesothelioma, an invariably fatal cancer involving the lining of the lungs. Although this cancer is rare in the general population, about 1500–2000 cases per year occur in people exposed to even relatively small amounts of asbestos.
Daniel Wilson, Sr. began working for Arizona Public Service in the mail room in the late 1950s. He quickly rose through the ranks of machine and welder's helper, apprentice and journeyman machinist, until he finally became an active Maintenance and Insulator Foreman at the Four Corners Power Plant in New Mexico in 1973. Daniel Wilson, Sr. had worked his entire career for Arizona Public Service, serving at numerous power plants in Arizona and New Mexico until he retired in 1991. Along the way he was recognized for various employment achievements involving safety, efficiency, and quality of work.
The jury awarded Daniel Wilson, Sr. $591,091.51 in economic damages and $3,000,000 in non–economic damages, including pain and suffering. The jury awarded Lois Wilson $1,000,000 for her loss of consortium claim. This is believed to be the largest loss of consortium verdict awarded in an asbestos action.