SAN FRANCISCO, CA — May 8, 2000 — A San Francisco jury awarded $4,648,535 to a former Navy seaman afflicted with malignant mesothelioma caused by his occupational exposure to asbestos. The plaintiffs were Bernie Chavers and his wife of 25 years, Mary Chavers. The defendants were Owens–Illinois, Inc. and Gatke Corporation, former manufacturers of asbestos–containing insulation and friction products.
The trial began on January 3, 2000, before San Francisco Superior Court Judge James McBride. A jury was impaneled to hear the case and heard testimony. Closings were presented March 9, 2000. The jury had deliberated over 40 days before reaching their verdicts. During the trial, testimony concerning asbestos, medical diagnosis, epidemiology, corporate knowledge of the danger of asbestos, cell biology and industrial hygiene was presented, as well as evidence regarding Mr. Chavers' occupational exposure circumstances.
Evidence at trial demonstrated that defendant Owens–Illinois had known of the dangers associated with asbestos since before 1943 when it first made and sold asbestos–containing products. Thereafter, despite their knowledge, Owens–Illinois misrepresented that their asbestos products were "non–toxic" and could be used with ordinary tools of the trade, not requiring any special precautions or respiratory protection from the deadly and often invisible microscopic asbestos fibers released whenever their insulation was cut, removed or touched. The jury found Owens–Illinois guilty of negligence, products liability and fraud. They also concluded that Owens–Illinois was involved in a conspiracy dating to the 1930s whereby many manufacturers of asbestos products concealed facts regarding the dangers of their products and misrepresented the true nature of the hazards the products posed to unsuspecting workers.
The jury further found, by a vote of 9–3, that Owens–Illinois committed malice and oppression in its conduct, which finding allows a second phase of trial which is set to begin in May 2000. In that phase of trial, the jury will be asked to assess punitive and exemplary damages against Owens–Illinois, which just announced in their 1999 Annual Report net earnings of $298.3 million on net sales of a record $5.5 billion dollars. Today, Owens–Illinois has extensive presence worldwide as a leading manufacturer of glass containers. Owens–Illinois estimates that one of every two glass containers made worldwide is made by them. It no longer sells asbestos products.
"We are relieved that the jury found in the plaintiffs' favor as Mr. and Mrs. Chavers are deserving people who never should have been put through this horrible disease," said Gilbert Purcell, attorney for the Chavers. "We hope that the jury will now strive to make a good example of ...in their consideration of punitive damages. We believe Owens–Illinois should warn people about the dangers of their products and recall Kaylo, which they have the ability to identify. To date, they refuse to do either."