March 8, 2016, PLLR E-Newsletter
Jury holds Crane Co. accountable for millwright’s fatal mesothelioma
The man’s estate argued that Crane and others were negligent in placing asbestos-containing products into the stream of commerce and in failing to warn of their products’ dangers when they knew or should have known the health hazards of asbestos. Dobrick v. Air & Liquid Sys. Corp.
From 1951 to 1986, Valent Rabovsky worked as a millwright at various Pennsylvania power plants. Throughout his career, Rabovsky removed asbestos gaskets and packing from valves manufactured by Crane Co. The valves had at least three asbestos gaskets between the flange and internal gaskets, creating at least six scraping surfaces. The process generated substantial asbestos dust, and Rabovsky, who worked within a foot of the valves and wore no protective equipment, breathed the dust.
At several plants in 1974, Rabovsky was exposed to asbestos from insulation in Foster Wheeler boilers. At one plant in particular, as he worked on the turbine floor, asbestos rained down on him while workers removed asbestos insulation from the boiler directly overhead. He was also exposed to asbestos in other products, such as turbines, pumps, and boilers, throughout his career as a millwright.
In 2009, at age 85, Rabovsky was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He died of the disease in 2012, at age 88, survived by his wife, two adult daughters, and one adult son.
One of Rabovsky’s daughters, on behalf of his estate, sued Crane Co., Foster Wheeler, various premises owners, and the manufacturers of other asbestos-containing equipment and products. The estate argued that the product defendants were negligent in placing asbestos-containing products into the stream of commerce and in failing to warn of their products’ dangers when they knew or should have known of health hazards of asbestos. The case was removed to federal court and initially proceeded in the asbestos multidistrict litigation (MDL) before being transferred to Pennsylvania district court.
All of the defendants other than Crane Co. settled for confidential amounts or were otherwise dismissed, and the case went to trial against Crane Co., with the focus on plaintiff’s negligent failure to warn claim. Several former defendants—including Foster Wheeler, turbine manufacturer Westinghouse Electric, Goulds Pumps, Inc., brake shoe manufacturer Honeywell International, and several premises owners—remained on the verdict form.
At trial, the plaintiff offered evidence that the dangers of asbestos were publicized as early as the 1930s and that Crane must have known of the danger based on the literature and the company’s participation in various trade associations. Despite this, the estate asserted, Crane failed to include a warning on its products until the 1980s and, when it did, the warning was not accurate because it stated only “Caution: Asbestos,” without detailing any specific health risks.
Crane argued that it had no access to the early literature on asbestos because those reports involved factories that worked directly with raw asbestos. Crane argued that it only first became aware of the potential asbestos dangers of its products in the 1970s.
Crane also argued that it was not responsible for other manufacturers’ asbestos-containing component parts that were used in its equipment. The court determined that Crane was responsible under Pennsylvania law for foreseeable replacement parts because the company knew or should have known of the dangers at the time the products were introduced to the stream of commerce.
The jury found for the estate and allocated fault at 30 percent to Crane, 25 percent to Westinghouse, 20 percent to Foster Wheeler, 13 percent to Goulds Pumps, 5 percent each to two premises owners, and 2 percent to Honeywell. The jury then awarded about $1.09 million. The verdict included $835,000 for Rabovsky’s pain and suffering. Plaintiff counsel estimates that Crane will responsible for at least $322,500.
The estate is also now seeking to assert its punitive damages claim, which was deferred by the federal MDL.
Citation: Dobrick v. Air & Liquid Sys. Corp., No. 2:10-cv-03202 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 9, 2016).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Charles E. Soechting Jr. and Sam Iola, both of Dallas; and David P. Halpern, Philadelphia.
Plaintiff experts: Arnold Brody, cell biology, Raleigh, N.C.; John Maddox, pathology, Newport News, Va.; and Edwin Holstein, occupational medicine, Boston.
Defense experts: James Crapo, pulmonology, Denver; Donna Ringo, industrial hygiene, Louisville, Ky.; and Charles Blake, industrial hygiene, Kennesaw, Ga.