New York Mesothelioma Lawsuit Results in Rare Punitive Damages Award

A New York jury has awarded $2.25 million, including a rare $750,000 punitive damages award for a mesothelioma lawsuit, to the family of a repairman who died of the asbestos-related cancer.

The Erie County Court jury found that Fisher Controls International was partly responsible for the mesothelioma death of Ronald Drabczyk, a former worker at Hooker Chemical in Buffalo, New York. Drabczyk repaired control valves containing asbestos that were manufactured by Fisher.

The New York mesothelioma lawsuit resulted in an award of $1.5 million in compensatory damages for Drabczck’s family, and an additional $750,000 in punitive damages after the jury found Fisher’s failure to warn workers about the hazards of asbestos exposure involved wanton and reckless behavior. Punitive damage awards are rare in asbestos lawsuits, and it is believed that this is the first such award in New York in more than 20 years.

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While the jury only found Fisher to be 5% responsible for Drabczyk’s exposure to asbestos, the reckless endangerment finding by the jury makes Fisher 100% responsible under New York law.

Drabczck overhauled Fisher-manufactured control valves at the Hooker Chemical plant from 1970 through 1988. He died on November 29, 2005 of mesothelioma cancer.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that attacks the lungs and chest lining. It is caused by asbestos exposure, usually resulting from inhaling or consuming asbestos fibers used in industrial processes. As a result of a long latency period of between 20 and 40 years between exposure to asbestos and diagnosis, the cancer is often at a very advanced stage by the time it is discovered and often results in death.

Asbestos was widely used in a variety of manufacturing and construction applications throughout the last century. Use peaked in 1973, before the toxic substance was banned in 1982. Despite the ban, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the number of mesothelioma deaths continues to rise each year due to the latency period, with the number expected to peak in 2010.

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