Jurors hear late mesothelioma victim's testimony in Madison County trial

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 24, 2014

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - Jurors in Madison County, Ill., were able to hear the testimony of a now-deceased mesothelioma victim who served in the U.S. Navy on Friday during an asbestos trial.

Tom King, Sr., filed his lawsuit last year in Madison County, months before he died from mesothelioma on May 23, 2013, at age 71. Before his death, attorneys recorded King's video deposition on Feb. 27-28, 2013.

Brothers Tom King, Jr., and Brian King are now representing their father in the lawsuit.

Crane Co., a company that allegedly supplied the Navy with mechanical gaskets and valves, and John Crane, a designer and manufacturer of mechanical seals, are the remaining defendants at trial from the original list of 119 defendant companies.

King was a machinist mate for the U.S. Navy from 1959-1962 and again from 1965-1969, serving on the USS Forrestal, USS Tallahatchie County and the USS Hollister.

He started as an E3 fireman on the Forrestal and worked his way up to a machinist mate first class by the time he left the Navy permanently in 1969.

He worked primarily in the engine room on each ship, but occasionally helped in other areas of the ship when needed.

"If you're at sea, practically everything is running and it doesn't work right," King said. "If it breaks, we fix it."

More heavy duty repairs would take place at port or during overhaul when the ship goes into dry dock for maintenance.

King testified that crew members were required to refer to a manual every time they worked on a piece of equipment regardless of their expertise in the department

He added that he never saw any warning signs or anything indicating that he needed to wear respiratory protection in the manual.

While the manuals had the manufacturer's name on the front, he could not verify if the manuals were generated by the Navy or the manufacturers.

"The manufacturer's name was there on the manual, that's all I know," he said.

When replacing old, worn-out parts King said the manual instructed him to use specific asbestos parts, which were already provided to him by the Navy.

He said he never deviated from what the manuals instructed, calling the required specifications the "Navy way."

"We had a chain of command," he said. "Remember the Navy way? That's what we were required to do."

Recalling his work aboard the three ships he was stationed on, King shared his experience working with pumps, valves and insulation.

The packing inside the valves was used as a sealant to prevent leaks. Because it only needed to be replaced if it was leaking, the material would be damp and it wasn't always a dusty process, King said.

However, King added that the process was a difficult task.

"Sometimes it was a real bear to get the packing out," he said.

That wasn't the case with when replacing gaskets in pumps. Pumps were generally used with hot fluids, he explained, so he had to allow them to cool off before working on them. By then, the components would be dry.

"These systems are hot and when we worked with hot valves, they were isolated. We cleared out all the water because we couldn't work with that," he said.

In order to replace the gaskets, King had to clean the excess asbestos off the valves with a wire brush, calling it gun metal cleaning, in order to prevent future leaking. The cleaning process created a lot of dust, he said.

"Anytime you're using a wire brush, it's going to have an effect on whatever it is you are moving," King said.

King said he knew the valves came from Crane Co. because the company's name was on the casing, but agreed a majority of the valves did not come from Crane Co.

Switching gears to his insulation work, he said he occasionally repaired insulation on equipment like turbines and boilers and was often near insulation work while repairing gaskets.

He would cut out the damaged area, put in new insulation and other coverings and paint the repair work.

King agreed that it was fair to say there were miles and miles of pipe insulation aboard the ships and alleges that it was a Johns Manville product.

During his testimony, King cautioned the attorneys interviewing him that his memory was tainted slightly due to his cancer treatments and reminded them that their questions involved events from decades ago.

"I am presently taking a heavy dose of chemotherapy," King said. "Sometimes it's hard pressed for me to remember what I had for supper last night."

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

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