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Calif. jury awards mesothelioma victim's family $11M in wrongful death lawsuit

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 5, 2014

OAKLAND, Calif. (Legal Newsline) - A jury awarded the family of a deceased auto parts worker diagnosed with mesothelioma $11 million in damages in the family's wrongful death lawsuit after previously awarding the family nearly $4 million in a personal injury lawsuit.

The wrongful death lawsuit was the second trial in a pair of trials in the Alameda County Superior Court. The jury deliberated for less than two hours after the two-day trial, reaching its verdict on Jan. 15 in Judge Jo-Lynne Q. Lee's courtroom. It awarded $6 million to decedent Gordon Bankhead's wife Emily Bankhead and $2.5 million to each of Gordon Bankhead's adult daughters - Tammy Bankhead and Debbie Bankhead-Meiers.

The family filed its wrongful death lawsuit against defendant Pneumo Abex LLC, successor of Abex Corporation, in June 2012.

According to the complaint, Gordon Bankhead worked as a parts man from 1965 until 1999 in the service and repair of heavy duty vehicles. His exposure to asbestos dust is primarily attributed to his work with vehicle brake parts.

Gordon Bankhead was involved in regularly inspecting, replacing, grinding and blowing out dust from the asbestos-containing brakes.

Defendant Pneumo Abex manufactured brake linings Gordon Bankhead was exposed to, which were attached to brake shoes and axles and were sold to his employers.

He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2010 and filed his asbestos personal injury complaint in March 2010.

Gordon Bankhead died from his illness at age 68 in October 2011, which led to the wrongful death lawsuit, intended to compensate his family for their loss of his companionship.

Pneumo was not allowed to dispute its responsibility for Gordon Bankhead's death during the wrongful death lawsuit, and the jury was not informed of the details behind the defendant's liability nor the family's previous verdicts in the personal injury complaint.

The jury was asked to determine an appropriate number to compensate the family for losing their loved one 17 years before his life expectancy.

"Immediately prior to the conduct of defendants herein giving rise to the decedents exposure to asbestos and asbestos-containing materials and before the fatal asbestos-related disease was diagnosed, plaintiff's decedent was an adult person in good physical and mental condition and was a faithful and dutiful husband and father," the complaint stated.

According to the 10-count complaint, Pneumo Abex knew of the dangers associated with asbestos exposure but suppressed information relating to the dangers and failed to properly warn Gordon Bankhead.

"Each of the foregoing acts, suggestions, assertions and forebearances to act when a duty existed to act, the said defendants, and each of them, having such knowledge, knowing the decedent did not have such knowledge and would breathe such material innocently, was done falsely and fraudulently and with full intent to induce decedent to work in a dangerous environment and to cause decedent to remain unaware of the true facts," the complaint says.

The Bankheads' personal injury lawsuit went to trial in October 2010, and was conducted in two phases. The first phase of the trial was to determine liability. The second phase of the trial, beginning in January 2011, was to determine punitive damages.

As part of the first phase, the jury found that the defendants defectively designed their brakes, failed to adequately warn consumers and customers of the dangers in working with the brakes, were negligent and intentionally failed to inform the claimant of preventative measures.

They presented 30 percent liability to each brake manufacturer, including Pneumo Abex, 15 percent to each brake shoe manufacturer and 10 percent to Gordon Bankhead's employers.

The jury awarded Gordon Bankhead $1.47 million for his past and future economic loss and $1.5 million for his pain and suffering. They awarded Emily Bankhead $1 million for her loss of her husband's support and companionship.

Defendants Pneumo Abex and ArvinMeritor were the only two defendants left by the time the second phase of the first trial commenced. The rest had settled. The jury awarded $9 million in punitive damages, finding that the defendants' actions were malicious, fraudulent and oppressive. Pneumo Abex appealed, but the verdict was upheld.

The Bankheads were represented by Joseph Satterley and Justin Bosl of Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood and former partner Leigh Kirmsse in the first trial.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Heather Isringhausen Gvillo at asbestos@legalnewsline.com

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