Failure to warn of asbestos danger

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Case in Point

June 11, 2013

Failure to warn of asbestos danger 

The plaintiffs alleged that various manufacturers of asbestos-containing products and equipment to which a Navy machinist’s mate was exposed failed to warn of their products’ asbestos dangers. Serven v. Armstrong Intl.

While a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Navy from 1962 to 1966, James Serven worked with and around various asbestos-containing equipment, including boilers, heaters, pumps, and turbines. The work included removing and replacing asbestos-containing gaskets and packing on pumps and valves.

In late 2010, at age 67, Serven was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments, but died about six months later. He is survived by his wife and three adult children.

Before his death, Serven and his wife sued various manufacturers of asbestos-containing products and equipment, including gasket and packing manufacturer John Crane, Inc.; pump manufacturers Gould Pumps, Inc., and Warren Pumps, Inc.; steam trap manufacturers Armstrong International, Inc., and Yarway Corp.; and the corporate successor to Westinghouse Electric, which manufactured heaters and other electrical equipment. The plaintiffs asserted that exposure to chrysotile asbestos in the defendants’ products caused Serven’s mesothelioma and that the defendants failed to warn of their products’ asbestos dangers.

After Serven’s death, his estate, represented by his wife, was substituted as a plaintiff.

Various defendants, including Gould, Warren, Yarway, and Westinghouse, settled for confidential amounts, and the case proceeded to trial against John Crane, with Yarway and Westinghouse remaining on the verdict form. At trial, the plaintiffs’ expert testified that John Crane’s gaskets and packing would have released high levels of respirable asbestos fibers and that exposure to the fibers had caused Serven’s disease.

In addition to noneconomic damages, the estate sought $400,000 in lost future earnings, asserting that Serven—who was between jobs at the time of his diagnosis—had planned to return to work in the engineering field. The estate also claimed $200,000 in past medical expenses.

The defense argued that the chrysotile asbestos in its products was encapsulated and therefore was not released in sufficient quantities to have caused Serven’s mesothelioma. The defense contended that exposure to amosite asbestos in other companies’ products had caused Serven’s disease.

The jury found John Crane 100 percent at fault and awarded $650,000. The parties subsequently settled for a confidential amount.

Citation: Serven v. Armstrong Intl., No. 101202978 (Pa., Phila. Co. Com. Pleas Dec. 3, 2012).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Gary M. DiMuzio, Newport News, Va.; and AAJ members Michael B. Leh and Ryan Anderson, both of Philadelphia.

Plaintiff experts: Richard Lemen, industrial hygiene, Duluth, Ga.; Jerry Lauderdale, industrial hygiene, Austin, Texas; Arthur Frank, occupational medicine, Philadelphia; and Carlos Bedrossian, pathology, Oak Park, Ill.

Defense experts: Amy Madl, toxicology, San Francisco; James Crapo, pulmonology, Denver; and Thomas McCaffery, maritime operations, Alexandria, Va.

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