Illinois Mesothelioma Lawsuit Verdict of $17.87M Includes Punitive Damages

An Illinois jury awarded $17.87 million last month to a Bloomington woman who says she contracted mesothelioma cancer from asbestos exposure in a local factory nearly 50 years ago. The mesothelioma lawsuit verdict included a rare award of punitive damages as a result of the defendants’ failure to warn employees and customers about the known hazards of absestos.

The case was filed by Jayne Menssen, claiming that Penumo Abex LLC and Honeywell International Inc., as well as companies they evolved from, knew about the dangers of asbestos exposure, but failed to issue warnings or take precautions to protect employees. Menssen worked as a secretary from 1967 to 1969 at Union Asbestos and Rubber Co., which later became known as Unacro Industries Inc.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer found in the lining of the chest and lung. The only known cause of mesothelioma is asbestos exposure, and it is often not diagnosed for 20 to 40 years after exposure. As a result of the long latency period, the cancer is very advanced when it is diagnosed and life expectancy with the disease is limited.

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Asbestos was widely used in a variety of manufacturing and construction applications throughout the last century, with use peaking in 1973. Most uses of asbestos were banned in the United States in the mid-1980s. Despite the ban, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that the number of mesothelioma deaths continues to rise each year due to the latency period, with the number expected to peak in 2010.

After a four week trial and a day of deliberations, a McLean County jury returned an award in Menssen’s case on February 8, according to a report in The Pantagraph. The verdict included $3.5 million in compensatory damages against both the defendants, but the jury also leveled punitive damages of $4.37 million against Pneumo Abex and $10 million against Honeywell.

A jury assesses punitive damages against a defendant when it can be determined that the defendant acted in bad faith, either by specifically misleading or deceiving a plaintiff, intentionally doing harm, or by clearly knowing that their actions could lead to harm but performing those actions anyway. Punitive damages awards are rare in any lawsuit, but particularly rare in asbestos litigation, since in many cases the defendant’s actions occurred decades before the issue came to trial.

Asbestos litigation is the longest running mass tort in U.S. history, with the first asbestos exposure case filed in 1929. Over 600,000 people have filed lawsuits against 6,000 defendants after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, asbestosis or other asbestos-related diseases.

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  • scarlettMarch 2, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    It's not "Penumo" it's "Pneumo"

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