Case Type(s): Personal Injury, Workers' Compensation
Type of Injury(ies): Chemical Exposure, Chemical Exposure And/Or Burns
Verdicts & Settlements:
Reprinted From: The Advocate, October 9, 1996 By Chris Frank, Westside BureauPLAQUEMINE Two former chemical plant workers dying of lung cancer won a $12.8 million state count jury award Monday in a civil lawsuit blaming their illness on asbestos used in industrial insulation."That judgment may be the highest ever awarded in Iberville Parish," said 18th Judicial District Court Judge Jack Marionneaux, the trial judge."The combined lawsuits claimed that Owens Corning Fiberglass Corp. officials knew for decades that the asbestos in Kaylo, an insulation product, was deadly and covered up that information while continuing to make and sell the insulation," said the workers' attorney, Gordon McKernan."We're pleased with the verdict because it sends a message to 'big business' that when they intentionally refuse to take action to protect the lives and health of people, the citizens will no longer stand for it and are going to take action in the courts," McKernan said."The allegation is that Owens Corning knew since the mid-195Os about the danger of asbestos and hid it from the public," McKernan said. "There were no warnings until the 1970s and even then, they were inadequate. I think the jury was angry with the cover-up and the degree of negligence by the corporation."Owens Corning's attorney said the judgment is out of line compared to similar cases and that he planned to appeal the award and ask for a mistrial.McKernan, along with Pat Pendley of Plaquemine and Peter Kraus of Dallas, represented the former workers and their wives: John and Geraldine Vail and George and Faye Killingsworth, all of Baton Rouge.The jury awarded Vail $5.6 million, his wife $2.5 million, Killingsworth $2.9 million and his wife $1.8 million.In addition to Owens Corning, jurors found three other companies - American Refractors, General Refractors and Owens-Illinois - liable for Vail's exposure. Jurors decided that General Refractors also exposed Killingsworth to asbestos.Both men were exposed to the asbestos-laden Kaylo, used as boiler insulation, while working in Iberville Parish chemical plants in the 1960s.Asbestos dust caused the mesothelioma from which both are now dying, McKernan said."When it (Kaylo) was torn out they were exposed to the dust and they were exposed to it when they installed it," he said. Workers such as Vail and Killingsworth "had no idea of the danger of it."The disease struck the men after a 20- to 30-year latency period, McKernan said. Just when both men hoped to enjoy their retirement years (Vail is in his mid50s and Killingsworth is 70) they find themselves battling incurable cancer, he said."Mr. Vail is so sick he could not appear at the trial and we had to use his videotaped deposition," McKernan said.Killingsworth looks healthy and gets around well, but a 9-inch tumor that is "growing and growing in his lungs" will soon kill him, McKernan said. "This is an extremely, extremely painful disease and death."Other suits in similar cases are pending in 18th Judicial District Court and other jurisdictions in south Louisiana, McKernan said. "Tons of other people worked around it and are contracting asbestosis and asbestos-related diseases," he said. "Sometimes, the legal system does not work,” said Michael Cali, Owens Corning's attorney. "The jury obviously got overwhelmed by sympathy and were swayed by attorneys telling them that any amount of money awarded in this case is OK."Cali said he planned to ask for a mistrial and reduction of the award.Even alter Marionneaux warned him, Kraus made a couple of "improper statements" to the jury "that misled them about allocating the money," Cali said. Those could be grounds for a new trial, he said.The $12.8 million award is out of line compared to similar cases, Cali said."I've been doing this 15 years and this verdict is about four times the next-highest in the state (and) we've easily tried over 30 of them," he said.One combined case in Jefferson Parish, a seven-month trial that wrapped up in March, involved 129 cases of asbestos related diseases and included two plaintiffs also suffering from mesothelioma.In the Jefferson Parish case, the jury ruled for the plaintiffs, awarding $7.9 million, which was less than the Vails alone were awarded in the Iberville Parish case, Cali said.Awards in suits over asbestos-caused mesothelioma usually yield awards ranging from $290,000 to $1.1 million, Cali said.