State Supreme Court rules for worker who was exposed to asbestos

According to the SFgate news, the California Supreme Court reinstated a multimillion-dollar jury verdict for the family of a worker who inhaled asbestos dust on the job and later died of lung cancer. The ruling provided some legal protection — though not in this case — to suppliers of dangerous products who count on manufacturers to warn consumers.

William B. Webb worked from 1969 to 1979 as a warehouseman and truck driver for a company in Los Angeles County that shipped cement piping containing fibers of crocidolite, the most dangerous form of asbestos. He delivered the pipes about 10 times a year, inhaling dusty residue, with no warnings of its hazards. Webb was diagnosed in 2011 with mesothelioma, a fatal lung cancer caused by asbestos, and died after he and his wife filed suit.
Defendants included Special Electric Co., which supplied the asbestos without a warning label, and the pipe manufacturer, now-bankrupt Johns-Manville Corp., which did not provide warnings until the 1980s, according to court testimony.

A jury found both companies at fault and awarded Webb’s family $5 million in damages, but the trial judge overturned the verdict against Special Electric, saying the supplier had no duty to warn users like Webb because it should have been able to rely on Johns-Manville to recognize the dangers and provide the warnings. The state’s high court unanimously disagreed.
The court said suppliers of dangerous but legal products generally must provide warnings to workers and consumers who may be exposed to the dangers. Those warnings are not required, however, when someone else in the chain of distribution, such as the manufacturer, is known to be aware of the dangers and is reasonably trusted by the supplier to provide the warnings, the court said.
In this case, though, while Johns-Manville knew of the risks posed by asbestos, there was no evidence that the manufacturer knew the crocidolite from Special Electric was several times as likely as other forms of asbestos to cause cancer, the court said. It also said at least one Special Electric sales representative told customers that crocidolite was safer than other forms of asbestos.

“The record does not establish … that Special Electric actually and reasonably relied on Johns-Manville to warn end-users like William Webb about the dangers of asbestos,” Justice Carol Corrigan said in the ruling reinstating the jury verdict.

Each year, approximately 3,000 Americans are diagnosed with mesothelioma. Over 100,000 sufferers have died since Steve passed away and the disease is not predicted to peak until 2025. Asbestos exposure causes many diseases in the USA including mesothelioma and lung cancer. Lung cancer is the top cancer killer in the U.S. It’s diagnosed in more than 220,000 people a year and it killed nearly 160,000 people last year, according to the National Cancer Institute. Asbestos exposure can lead to diseases such as asbestosis, lung cancer and mesothelioma. If you, a family member or a friend were diagnosed with an asbestos-related disease, we may be able to help. We have been assisting our clients with their asbestos cases since 1975. Please contact our office at 1-800-995-6991, for a free consultation. For more information about the SFgate newspaper’s article, please click on the above link.