The family of a cement contractor and construction superintendent diagnosed with mesothelioma after exposure to Union Carbide asbestos products was recently awarded $48 million dollars, including a rare punitive damages award as a result of attempts to hide the dangers associated with asbestos exposure.
The mesothelioma lawsuit was brought by the family of 86 year-old Bobbie Izell, who worked in hundreds of homes and commercial buildings between 1947 and 1980, where he was exposed to asbestos products provided by the Union Carbide Corp., a subsidiary of the Dow Chemical Company, and other companies.
Following trial in California Superior Court in Los Angeles, a jury determined that Union Carbide, Riverside Cement, CalPortland and other companies were responsible for attempting to hide information about the risk of mesothelioma cancer from their asbestos products. The companies had maintained that there was not enough asbestos in their products to cause cancer.
Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos and breathing asbestos fibers. It is a lethal disease, which is often at a very advanced stage when a diagnosis is made. By that time, most victims have just months to live.
Punitive Damages Against Union Carbide for Hiding Cancer Risk
The jury awarded $30 million in compensatory damages, as well as $18 million in punitive damages against Union Carbide, which is a rare award in asbestos litigation. The jury determined that Union Carbide should pay $1 million for each year that it continued to supply asbestos after a 1967 internal memo where the company admitted that asbestos caused cancers, even after brief exposures.
The trial, which lasted for six weeks, also revealed other internal communications regarding attention to asbestos claims. In one memo, Union Carbide officials reminded employees to “use the tools we now have at our disposal” in response to media attention they considered “out of context reporting”. The memo continued, “…Control of asbestos dust exposure is necessary, as is control of exposure to any of a variety of dusty operations. Union Carbide pellets offer a clear-cut means of handling asbestos under exceptionally low dust conditions ….”
Union Carbide has been the subject of numerous asbestos exposure lawsuits filed by individuals who worked in Union Carbide plants from 1945 to 1980 and who were exposed to the company’s products containing calidria chrysotile asbstos from 1964 to 1972.
Last year, a Florida jury awarded more $21 million to Charles Garrison, 61, who allegedly developed mesothelioma cancer from exposure to Union Carbide asbestos that was mixed into Georgia Pacific joint compound.
While mesothelioma often caused by direct exposure to asbestos among individuals who worked with asbestos-laden materials, an increasing number of lawsuits have been brought in recent years over mesothelioma from second hand asbestos exposure, where family members were exposed when workers brought fibers home on their clothing, shoes, skin or in their hair.
Asbestos litigation is the longest running mass tort in U.S. history, with the first 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.