California Appeals Court Upholds $6.5 Million Verdict in Asbestos Trial

A California appeals court affirmed a Los Angeles County Superior Court’s jury verdict in an asbestos lawsuit, meaning that it has reviewed the jury verdict and decided not to change it.  The $6.5 million verdict was awarded in a lawsuit concerning a commercial plumber, and the $6.5 million was awarded as non-economic damages and an additional $398,635 was awarded in economic damages in addition to denying defendant Crane Co.’s request for additional setoff to adjust for future settlements.  The opinion was delivered by Justice Walter Croskey of the California Second District Court of Appeals.

The Plaintiff

The plaintiff in the trial was William Paulus, who died of mesothelioma.  Paulus was exposed to asbestos when he attached valves to pipe by welding them together and attaching them to gaskets.  During the trial process, the court heard testimony from co-workers of Paulus that stated that he used Crane gaskets and valves on the job.  Inside the valves, the gaskets ensured the watertight nature of the attachments.  The flange gaskets were made out of Cranite and Garlock, and Cranite was a product distributed by Crane containing 75 to 85 percent asbestos.  In the process of punching out gaskets to attach to valves, Paulus exposed himself to asbestos because the substance would be dispersed into the air allowing for inhalation.

The Trial

Paulus previously settled with other defendants for a total sum of $5,150,000.  The jury was instructed to spread out the liability for asbestos exposure.  Among the 46 different possible bearers of responsibility, the jury allocated 10 percent of the blame for Paulus’s condition rested with Crane Co.  The jury also came to the conclusion that Crane was negligent, and that such negligence constituted a substantial factor in harming Paulus.

Crane’s Arguments

Crane attempted to show that the Paulus did not adequately introduce expert testimony proving that Crane’s asbestos-containing gaskets alone made a substantial contribution to the development of Paulus’ mesothelioma.  The court rejected this argument, saying that they were presented with sufficient evidence to support the jury’s conclusion that the Crane asbestos was a “substantial factor” in causing Paulus’s mesothelioma, according to Croskey.  Croskey explained that showing causation in asbestos-related cancer cases can be proven if a party demonstrates that the exposure was a substantial factor; the plaintiff does not have to go as far as demonstrating that an individual product was the actual or only cause of the asbestos-related cancer.

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