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Navy engineer testifies for defense in Madison County asbestos trial

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Feb 25, 2014

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - As the second week of a Madison County, Ill. asbestos trial begins in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs' courtroom, the defense called its first witness to the stand, bringing in Naval expert Admiral David Sargent, Jr.

Brothers Tom King, Jr. and Brian King brought the suit to Madison County last year on behalf of their father Tom King, Sr., months before he died from mesothelioma on May 23 at age 71.

Crane Co., a company that supplied the U.S. 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 of list of 119 defendant companies.

Sargent joined the Navy as a mechanical engineer in 1963. His expertise was in engineering and maintenance of World War II-era ships used when he was in service. He worked his way up to admiral in 1994, eventually becoming a program executive officer responsible for the design of aircraft carriers, service ships and amphibious ships. He retired from the Navy in 1999.

Under questioning by Crane Co. attorney Jim Lowery, Sargent said the ships King served on were all originally World War II-era destroyers, meaning his ships were "essentially identical from the main deck down" to the destroyers Sargent worked with.

According to the lawsuit, Tom 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.

Sargent testified that at the time King served in the Navy, the Bureau of Ships, BuShips, was responsible for design, construction and maintenance of the ships, or procurement.

When describing how a ship is procured, Sargent said it begins when the Navy decides it needs a capability that it doesn't already have. It chooses whether to create something new or improve a current system. Its idea would go through an approval process and then to BuShips to complete procurement contracts and begin purchasing the systems.

The ship would then be assembled according to Navy specifications.

The purpose of procurement technical specifications is to avoid any confusion regarding what the Navy requires.

"So much of the ship is unique, so you can't go to commercial specifications," he explained.

The Navy would follow a qualified product list, which included specific products that have been tested and proven to fully comply with specific MilSpecs.

Lowery pulled the qualified product list from the National Archives dating 1959-1974, stating that neither the word Crane nor Cranite appears on the list.

"If it's not on a QPL, then it's not a product that the Navy certified as a MilSpec," Sargent responded to Lowery's statement.

BuShips provided technical manuals to aide purchasers when ordering replacement parts for the ship's storage and to guide maintenance mates when repairing equipment.

Sargent said these technical manuals were developed by both the Navy and contracted manufacturers.

"There is, not surprisingly, a separate MilSpec. for manuals," he said.

Contrary to what King testified in his video deposition, a technical manual was not required for every piece of equipment on the ship, specifically "if there's no complexity to the operation of that piece of equipment," Sargent said.

He added there was no manual for a valve because the operation was simple and later compared changing a gasket to changing a light bulb.

Also, the Navy didn't always use asbestos gaskets and packing depending on the type of gaskets.

Sargent testified that a large percentage of valves required gaskets and packing, but he couldn't confidently say a majority required them.

However, it still stands that the Navy procured "many many" gaskets and gasket material containing asbestos.

Regardless of how many asbestos-containing gaskets were used, Sargent said insulation accounted for 250-300 times the volume of gaskets, calling it "minuscule" compared to insulation.

Sargent said asbestos-containing thermal insulation would have been running all throughout the ships King was on. He estimated that the ships had between 30 and 40 tons of asbestos containing thermal insulation, which equals approximately 60,000 pounds.

A large majority of the insulation would have been contained in the engine rooms and boiler rooms due to the "incredible" heat produced in those areas.

Asbestos-containing insulation was used because it was much lighter and allowed for faster ships and reserve weight for other necessary items.

"For every pound you saved in insulation weight, you could put more fuel on or more weapons," Sargent said.

As part of King's duties, serving in the engine rooms, he was required to change gaskets, repair pumps and repair valves. He would scrape out dry, baked chrysotile asbestos from gaskets in order to replace them with new ones. He used a wire brush and a scraper to clean the asbestos from the old gaskets.

In order to work his way up in class, King would have had to complete practical tests according to the machinist mate rate manual.

He would have had to show that he learned certain tasks, such as applying insulation, and earn high performance marks.

When asked if the Navy provided any warnings for how to handle the asbestos-containing materials, Sargent testified that the term "warning" implied a reminder intended to remind the crew of something they had already been trained in. He used a high voltage symbol as an example

"A warning is a reminder," Sargent explained. "It's not a statement in itself typically."

During cross-examination, Sargent said that as far as he knew the Navy didn't prohibit from warning.

While he didn't address asbestos warnings specifically, he said sailor health is very important to the Navy.

He described the difference between safety and health, comparing safety to immediately occurring accidents and health hazards as having no immediate impact.

Brian King's Testimony

Just before the defense opened its side of the argument, the jury heard the testimony of Brian King, the last plaintiff witness.

Plaintiffs attorney Allyson Romani of Shrader & Associates began her questioning by showing several photos of Brian King and his father growing up.

King said his father joined the Navy to see the world and meet new people.

"When he joined the Navy, he was just in Heaven," King said.

His father left the Navy to start a family and entered the industrial water treatment field. Referring to him as a dynamo, Brian King said his father decided to return to school while balancing work, education and family time.

Eventually, Tom King started his own water treatment company so he could charge half the price but give twice the services to customers, his son said. Brian King followed in his father's footsteps and now maintains the family company.

After his father got sick with mesothelioma, Brian King became his primary caretaker. He took him to his doctor's appointments. The two tried a doctor practicing in alternative medicine who Brian says was helpful with Tom King's prostate cancer.

However, the doctor said it was too aggressive of a cancer and all he could do was try to make him comfortable, Brian said.

The family chose to try chemotherapy, but his health only worsened.

During this time, Brian King testified that he would prepare his father's meals, bathe him, dress him, clean his home and try everything he could to keep him comfortable.

Brian King said in the past, his father would just "rub some dirt in it" if he injured himself. During his mesothelioma, Brian King said his father was in so much pain that he had to give him morphine to knock him out.

By early May, Brian King tearfully said he was no longer qualified to care for his father and took him to a nursing home. He was there for about a week when Tom King begged his son to take him home.

"He begged me, he begged me to take him home," Brian King said in an emotional testimony. "I scooped him up in my arms and took him to a wheelchair and took him home. And he had the privilege to die in the company of his own home the next day."

Taking care of his father and working became increasingly difficult, he said. He lost several customers on the job as he tried to balance work and nursing, resulting in distractions, depression and fatigue.

"I thought I was stronger than this," Brian King said.

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

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