A New York jury has awarded $12.5 million to the family of an auto mechanic who died of lung cancer allegedly caused by asbestos exposure from forklift parts.
The complaint was brought by the estate of George Cooney, who died in September 2014 after contracting lung cancer from work as a mechanic with parts containing asbestos, while he worked on forklifts for Hyster Co. of Maspeth, Queens, from 1969 to 1980.
The family blamed Caterpillar, the forklift manufacturer, for failing to adequately warn mechanics about the potential asbestos exposure risks associated with working on their vehicles and parts.
Following trial, the jury found that Caterpillar was in part to blame for Cooney’s lung cancer, despite a 2 1/2 pack a day smoking habit. After considering evidence about the cancer risks with asbestos dating back to 1968, which showed that researchers knew that smokers exposed to asbestos were 92 times more likely to die of lung cancer, the jury assigned 55% of the blame to Caterpillar, and 45% to Cooney for his smoking habit.
Evidence presented at trial also indicated that a Caterpillar representative admitted that the company knew about the dangers of asbestos dating back to at least the 1930s. However, its products did not contain warning labels until 1984.
Asbestos is toxic even in small amounts, and has banned in many forms for decades, yet it is still in use in some industries. It is frequently used in automobile brake pads and clutches, vinyl tiles and roofing materials.
Exposure to asbestos fibers has been linked to a number of forms of respiratory illnesses and cancer, such as mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis.
Mesothelioma is a particularly life-threatening form of cancer that is often not diagnosed until decades after exposure to asbestos, due to the long latency period. Therefore, individuals face a long-term risk following asbestos exposure.
Even though most uses of asbestos were banned in the United States more than 30 years ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated in 2009 that the number of asbestos deaths from mesothelioma was continuing to rise.
Asbestos exposure lawsuits have been one of the largest mass-torts in U.S. history, with more than 600,000 people having filed a case against more than 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma or other related injuries that were allegedly caused by inhaling asbestos fibers.