SAN FRANCISCO — October 29, 1998 — A San Francisco jury returned a verdict in two cases, awarding $3,688,523 to two workers who suffered laryngeal cancer and had their larynxes removed as a result of their occupational exposure to asbestos. Both workers are also afflicted with asbestosis and pleural disease as a result of their occupational exposures to asbestos.
The plaintiffs were Hendrick and Wilda Oranje, formerly of Concord, California; and James Davidson, formerly of Redwood City, California. The defendants in Mr. Oranje's case were Dowman Products, Inc. and The Synkoloid Company. The Synkoloid Company was the only defendant in Mr. Davidson's case. The defendants were manufacturers of drywall joint compounds which contained asbestos prior to 1976. Dowman also manufactured a popular patch–all product called Fixall, which plaintiffs proved contained asbestos from at least 1960 to 1964.
These cases were consolidated for trial because of the similarity of medical issues. The trials, each involving the diseases asbestosis and laryngeal cancer, started on July 27, 1998 before San Francisco Superior Court Judge Diane Elan Wick. During the trial, the parties presented extensive testimony regarding the cause of the laryngeal cancers and lung disease, as well as their exposure to asbestos from defendants' products.
Mr. Oranje's and Mr. Davidson's work involved substantial occupational exposure to asbestos. Hendrick Oranje was raised in The Netherlands while it was occupied by Germany during World War II. He immigrated to the United States with his parents in the early '50s. He worked as a brick mason in the San Francisco Bay Area. He soon became a commercial painter and drywall taper working in the Oakland/Berkeley areas until 1968 predominately at the paint and maintenance departments of the University of California at Berkeley. Thereafter he worked as a painter in Alaska. Mr. Oranje eventually returned to the San Francisco Bay Area where he was forced to retire because of his cancerous larynx being removed.
Mr. Davidson also worked as a commercial painter and drywall taper. He worked in many South Bay communities, and worked for many years in the maintenance department for the Redwood City School District and County of San Mateo. Mr. Davidson also retired after developing laryngeal cancer.
Both of these men now speak using mechanical devices implanted in their tracheas which the men press in, diverting expelled air over a mechanical device which acts as a mechanical vocal chord, and out through their mouth so that speech may occur. This is a permanent condition.
The jury found that Dowman Products, Incorporated's and The Synkoloid Company's asbestos products together with cigarette smoke caused the laryngeal cancer. The jury also indicated in their verdicts a finding that the plaintiffs contributed to the cancers by smoking.