San Francisco Jury Awards $150,000 to Mechanic with Asbestosis
San Francisco, CA — November 21, 2002 — A San Francisco jury awarded $150,000 to a retired instrument mechanic and maintenance supervisor suffering from asbestos pleural disease and asbestosis caused by on–the–job exposure to asbestos. The plaintiff was Lewis Sunderman, who is 79 years old and a decorated war veteran. The defendant was Aqua–Chem, Inc., and its Cleaver Brooks division, the leading manufacturer of package boilers worldwide.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith presided over the three–week trial. The jury heard testimony about asbestos, medical diagnosis, epidemiology, cardiology, industrial hygiene, and Cleaver Brooks’ knowledge that its boilers contained asbestos.
A History of Asbestos Exposure
Mr. Sunderman spoke about his long history of occupational exposure to asbestos. He first came into contact with the substance while serving in the U.S. Marines at boot camp on Parris Island, NC. For two to three days, he helped clean up asbestos-containing debris from two Cleaver Brooks boilers located at that site. He was again exposed to asbestos for almost two years while serving onboard the USS Denver during World War II.
After the war, Mr. Sunderman worked for ten years as an instrument mechanic at Cincinnati Gas & Electric Company. He estimates that he mixed and applied 500 bags of asbestos insulating cement while at the company. He was also exposed to asbestos packing materials during valve repair.
Mr. Sunderman relocated to California in the early 1960s and was employed as a maintenance supervisor until his retirement in 1987. During this period, he was intermittently exposed to asbestos through his own work and as a bystander to maintenance, inspection, and repair of Cleaver Brooks boilers at Foremost Food & Chemical, Oakland, CA; HITCO, Gardena, CA; and at Felters Company, Jackson, MI.
Mr. Sunderman’s exposure to Cleaver Brooks boilers occurred when asbestos-containing gaskets, cements, refractory, and millboard were disturbed. These products contained up to 95% asbestos fiber by weight. He did not protect himself from breathing the dust because he was unaware of asbestos hazards at that time.
Manufacturer Never Warned About Asbestos in Its Boilers
Cleaver Brooks has designed, manufactured, sold, and delivered package boilers since 1931. Its package fire tube and water tube boilers contained asbestos components from 1931 until sometime in the late 1970s or early 1980s. The company also manufactured asbestos-containing gaskets, refractory lining materials, and insulation for the boilers.
Cleaver Brooks boilers must be inspected and maintained on a yearly basis. Each inspection involves the removal of door, manhole, and hand hole gaskets containing asbestos. Repairing boilers frequently involved disturbance of asbestos-containing refractory linings and insulation.
The company never tested its boilers for asbestos fiber release or warned customers about asbestos hazards. It never recalled a boiler or any asbestos component or issued safe work practices brochures to its customers.
The Plight of Asbestos Victims
Asbestos pleural disease and asbestosis are chronic respiratory diseases caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. In Mr. Sunderman’s case, these conditions affect his breathing and play a major role in preventing him from receiving needed coronary artery surgery. He has never smoked.
The defendant, Aqua–Chem, Inc., was represented by Christopher Wood of C.W. Wood & Associates from San Francisco, CA, and Leonardo Vachina of Berry & Berry from Oakland, CA.