A nearly $22 million asbestos case verdict was upheld last week by the California Court of Appeals. The verdict included $14.5 million in punitive damages. Asbestos trials are always complex cases, often with multiple appeals, so it encouraging to see the jury verdict affirmed. The jury found John Crane, Inc. liable for the mesothelioma that William Pfeifer contracted during his days serving in the Navy and afterwards working for the U.S. Government.
Mr. Pfeifer was in the U.S. Navy for 1963 to 1971, working on boilers. His duties involved changing gaskets that contained asbestos. From 1971 to 1982, he was a boiler technician at several U.S. Government sites, again working on boilers and handling gaskets.
Crane sold gaskets made with asbestos. The trial court determined that Pfeifer’s mesothelioma, which appeared in 2009, was the result of repeated exposure during his working years to asbestos-laden dust.
The punitive damages are permitted when a party engages in “despicable” conduct that disregards “the rights and safety of others.” The punitive award in this case was due to the fact that Crane failed to warn its customers.
It knew of the dangers posed by asbestos as early as 1970. However, while Crane warned their employees handling asbestos, it failed to warn any customers of its products regarding any danger posed by the potential release of asbestos from it gaskets. It was 1983 before they warned customers of the danger posed by asbestos dust from their products.
While a win in the court of appeals is always good news, it is sad that Mr. Pfeifer did not survive his mesothelioma to see the victory. He died from in February 2011, and he at least lived long enough to see jury verdict in his favor.
Source: Court of Appeal of the State of California, Second Appellate District, “Anne Pfeifer v. John Crane, Inc.,” October 29, 2013