San Francisco Jury Awards $33.7 Million To Former Navy Electrician
San Francisco, CA — March 27, 2002 — In what is believed to be the largest verdict ever in a California asbestos case, a San Francisco jury awarded a total of $33,700,000 to a former navy electrician and his wife. Alfred Todak, who was once a member of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, was awarded $22,700,000 in economic and non–economic damages. His wife, Stephanie Todak, was awarded $11,000,000 for loss of consortium. Counsel is unaware of a larger loss of consortium verdict anywhere.
Mr. Todak, age 60, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal form of cancer of the lining of the lung caused by exposure to asbestos, in March 2001. At present, there is no known cure for mesothelioma and Mr. Todak is undergoing experimental treatment at the University of Chicago mesothelioma clinic. The defendant, Foster Wheeler Corporation, designed, manufactured and supplied marine boilers with asbestos–containing components including refractory block insulation, roving material, and gaskets.
Testimony Focused on Occupational Exposure
Superior Court Judge John E. Munter presided over the trial, which lasted five weeks. Testimony about asbestos, asbestos disease, epidemiology, and industrial hygiene was presented, as well as evidence regarding Mr. Todak's occupational exposure to asbestos as an electrician in the U.S. Navy, at Bethlehem Steel mill in Seattle, Washington, and at the Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company. The evidence concerned Mr. Todak's asbestos exposure from his own work as an electrician and from that of other tradesmen working in his proximity. Testimony also explored Mr. Todak's exposure from the Foster Wheeler boilers, Foster Wheeler's knowledge of the dangers associated with asbestos before the 1930's, and the company's claim of a government contractor affirmative defense.
Mr. Todak, witnesses, and experts testified about the dusty and dirty conditions on board the vessels during construction and the job duties which the workers performed on the ships. Mrs. Stephanie Todak also spoke about the effects that mesothelioma is having on the couple's daily life.
A History of Work in Shipyards and in a Steel Mill
Mr. Todak served in the United States Navy from 1960 through 1962 on board the U.S.S. BRINKLEY BASS as a Fireman 3rd Class installing and maintaining communications and electrical equipment. During his Navy service aboard the BRINKLEY BASS, the vessel underwent a complete overhaul at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard in Washington.
After his Navy service, Mr. Todak worked at the Bethlehem Steel mill in Seattle as an electrician in 1965 and 1966. At Bethlehem Steel, Mr. Todak was exposed to asbestos during his work with asbestos–containing electrical components, wire, electric motor brakes, and as a bystander working around the various asbestos–containing refractory and thermal insulation materials used in the steel mill.
Mr. Todak worked at the Lockheed Shipbuilding and Construction Company in Seattle, Washington, from 1967 through 1972 and participated in the construction of seven US Navy "Landing Personnel Docks", or LPD attack vessels. Two Foster Wheeler type–D marine boilers were installed onboard each of the LPDs built at Lockheed. Mr. Todak performed his work as an electrician in the engine spaces of both the LPD–9 U.S.S. DENVER and LPD–10 U.S.S. JUNEAU during the installation and construction outfitting of the Foster Wheeler marine boilers and worked as a lead electrician thereafter on LPDs 11 through 15.
During the past fifteen years Mr. Todak has been employed as a medical personnel recruiter for hospitals and medical facilities across the United States. His business, Med–Employ International, recruits foreign nurses and medical professionals to the United States in an attempt to help relieve the current shortage of nurses being experienced in California and across the nation.
Marine Boilers Were Defective; Foster Wheeler Was Negligent
Foster Wheeler's asbestos–containing type–D marine boilers were defective under California consumer safety laws, according to the jury, because of their design and because the company failed to warn of the product's dangers, which were not obvious to the consumer. The jury also found Foster Wheeler was negligent in its design, manufacture, and supply of its asbestos–containing boilers. Further, it concluded that the federal government did not approve reasonably precise specifications for the asbestos–containing components used by Foster Wheeler in the type–D marine boilers; rather, the choice to use asbestos components was within the design discretion of Foster Wheeler. Therefore, the jury rejected the so–called "government contractor affirmative defense".
California asbestos attorneys Gilbert Purcell, and John Goldstein, of Brayton Purcell LLP's Novato, California office represented plaintiffs Alfred Todak and Stephanie Todak. Defendant Foster Wheeler was represented by Al Gutsche, Esq., and Julie Torres, Esq., of Jackson & Wallace, of San Francisco, California.
"We are gratified to have the jury acknowledge the substantial effect of this terrible disease on a very deserving man and wife, and that Foster Wheeler failed to demonstrate a colorable government contractor affirmative defense," said Gilbert Purcell, attorney for the plaintiff. "Juries have a keen ability to sort out right from wrong."
"We are likewise pleased that the jury recognized the value of this man's life," said John Goldstein, attorney for plaintiff.