On June 27, 2008, following a three-week trial in the New York Supreme Court, a verdict was entered against Kerr Corp., a dental supply company, for causing Marvin Penn’s mesothelioma cancer. It is believed to be the first verdict against a dental supply company in an asbestos lawsuit.
The jury found that four separate exposures contributed to Penn’s mesothelioma diagnosis, but Kerr Corp. was the only defendant remaining at trial. They were found to be 20% liable for his development of mesothelioma, as a result of exposure to asbestos in the late 1960s while he was attending dental technician school. Asbestos-containing dental tape manufactured by Kerr Corp. was used while making castings for wax replicas of teeth. Another dental supply manufacturer, Dentsply Corp, was also found to be 20% liable, but they settled prior to the verdict.
Two other potential causes of Penn’s mesothelioma diagnosis were identified by the jury. Exposure to asbestos spray used at the post office where he worked was found to be 40% liable, and Todd Shipyards, where Penn’s father worked as a steamfitter, was found to be 20% liable. His father’s exposure to asbestos dust was found to have contributed since workers often carried the dangerous dust particles home on their clothing, shoes, skin and in their hair.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer which is caused by exposure to asbestos and by breathing in asbestos fibers. It is found in the lining of the chest and lung, causing early symptoms such as shortness of breath, chest wall pain or weight loss. Conventional cancer treatments usually are not effective, and the median survival time after diagnosis is often only about 1 year.
Asbestos litigation is often referred to as the longest running mass tort in history, with the first lawsuit filed in 1929. Asbestos lawsuits have been filed against more than 6,000 defendants, by over 600,000 claimants. It is estimated that approximately 3,000 new cases of mesothelioma are diagnosed each year, and analysts estimate that the total cost of asbestos litigation in the U.S. could eventually reach $200 billion.