CLEVELAND (Legal Newsline) - An Ohio jury awarded a Cleveland-area man who developed mesothelioma allegedly through second-hand asbestos exposure and his wife $27.5 million in a verdict issued last month.
Plaintiffs John and Jane Panza fought their case before a jury of eight in Cuyahoga County Circuit Court. The verdict was given on Dec. 18 against defendant Kelsey-Hayes Co., with Judge Harry Hanna presiding over the 11-day trial.
Panza was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2012. Since his diagnosis, he has undergone several surgeries, including removal of his right lung.
What makes Panza's case unique is his age, just 40 years old, and the alleged method of his exposure. Panza was allegedly exposed to asbestos through asbestos dust on his father's work clothing. His father, who died of lung cancer in 1993, worked at Eaton Airflex - a brake manufacturing company - for 31 years. He was even president of the company's union.
The asbestos brake pads used at Eaton Airflex were manufactured by the former National Friction Products Corp, now known as Kelsey-Hayes Co.
Attorneys of the Waters, Kraus & Paul law firm worked up the case and represented the Panzas during trial.
"This case was all about a young man, with a young family, who was victimized by the greed of the asbestos industry," said John Mismas , local counsel for the plaintiffs.
The jury decided that the defendant's product was defective due to inadequate warnings or instructions and in design or formulation.
They also decided that the defendant's defective product was a substantial factor in causing Panza's malignant mesothelioma.
In their verdict, they awarded John Panza, Jr., $515,000 in economic damages and $12 million in non-economic damages.
The jury attributed 60 percent liability to Kelsey-Hayes and 40 percent liability to Eaton Airflex. However, Eaton Airflex is immune to the lawsuit under Ohio law, so Kelsey-Hayes will be responsible for all of the damages.
The jury also determined that Jane Panza proved her claim of loss of consortium and awarded her $15 million.
"I am so proud to represent John and his wife Jane. True justice happened here," said Gary Paul, lead trial attorney for the Panzas and partner at Waters, Kraus & Paul.
Demetrios Zacharopoulos, second trial chair for the Panzas, said the trial was particularly difficult due to the issue of exposure.
The Panzas' attorneys had to prove that John Panza's father worked with certain asbestos products and brought asbestos fibers home on his work clothing. Then they had to prove that Panza was exposed to and inhaled the asbestos on his father's clothes, causing his mesothelioma.
"In my long history in asbestos litigation, I am not sure I have seen a more compelling family than the Panzas," said Peter Kraus, a founding partner of Waters, Kraus & Paul.
John Panza is an English teacher at Cuyahoga Community College. He and his wife Jane, 37, attended both high school and college together. They have a six-year-old daughter.
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