Jury rules in favor of defendant Crane Co. in Madison County asbestos trial

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Mar 3, 2014

EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. (Legal Newsline) - After about four hours of deliberation on Friday, a Madison County, Ill., jury entered a verdict in favor of defendant Crane Co. in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs' courtroom.

This defense verdict marks the third since 2010 in Madison County, dubbed the "epicenter" for asbestos litigation by the American Tort Reform Association's Judicial Hellholes Report.

Brothers Brian King and Tom King, Jr. brought the suit to Madison County on behalf of their father Tom King, Sr. who died of mesothelioma on May 23 at age 71.

Tom King, Sr., was a machinist mate in the U.S. Navy from 1959-1962 and again from 1965-1969. His job was to repair pumps, valves, gaskets and insulation aboard WWII era destroyers.

Crane Co. is accused in the lawsuit for supplying the Navy with mechanical valves and valve component parts.

The jury came to its conclusion favoring Crane Co. on the grounds that plaintiff's attorneys failed to prove that Crane's asbestos-containing gasket material, Cranite, was even aboard the Navy ships and that there was not enough evidence revealing Crane knew it should have had warnings on its products.

"We didn't see enough evidence to show at that time that their product warranted a warning," Juror 4 said.

Several jurors pointed out that they were originally split 7-5, with the majority favoring the defendant.

However, they eventually agreed that they could find no reason why Crane Co. should have known to place warnings on its products because they weren't shown other companies that placed warning labels on their asbestos-containing products. If they had been shown such evidence, maybe they would have decided differently, they said.

Juror 8 said no other companies had warnings back then, so he didn't feel Crane Co. should have been singled out as being any different.

As for Cranite, the group was unconvinced King worked with the asbestos-containing gasket material on the ship. During King's video deposition, he described the Cranite material differently, saying it came in roles and was a burnt orange. However, Anthony Pantaleoni, Crane Co. Vice President of Environment Health and Safety, testified that it came in smaller three to four feet square sheets and was tan.

Further, Cranite was not listed on the Naval quality products list, which means the Navy would not have purchased that gasket material in bulk.

"If we knew for a fact the Navy bought Cranite from Crane Co, we may have decided differently," Juror 4 said.

"The Navy wouldn't buy onesie, twosie. They buy in bulk," he added.

The group of jurors also said that they may have decided differently if the defendant was an insulation manufacturer, saying they weren't convinced King's asbestos exposure to gaskets and packing was significant enough.

Plaintiff attorney Frank Wathen requested a poll of the jurors, revealing a unanimous decision.

Prior to the verdict, Wathen delivered the closing arguments on behalf of the King family, saying the case is a simple ABC case: Asbestos + Breathing = Cancer.

He began by showing the jury photos of Tom King from his time in the Navy.

"It's about Tom King's exposure to Crane Co. products and it's about Tom King's death," Wathen said.

He continued to say that only one party is claiming, "'It can never be us, never.' And that's Crane Company. And that's why we're here."

During closing statements, both sides agreed with the undisputed facts: that King was diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of his asbestos exposure in the U.S. Navy, which eventually led to his premature death in May at the age of 71, and that he worked hands-on with Crane Co. products sold to the Navy.

Wathen admitted in his list of primary exposures that King was exposed to insulation in addition to his valve, pump, gasket and packing exposure, saying it would be dishonest and inconsistent with scientific fact to ignore King's insulation asbestos exposure. He continued to blame the defense for being the only party telling the jury to ignore an exposure.

Wathen cited witness Dr. Arnold Brody, who said mesothelioma is a "cumulative dose disease," meaning an individual had a higher risk of mesothelioma with every exposure. Because every exposure is a key player in the development of mesothelioma, medical science cannot determine which fiber caused the disease.

Brody's opinion is significant, he said, because "all of these exposures that Tom King had, they were in the Navy, they were significant, they were contributing factors to his mesothelioma."

Focusing on their negligence claim, Wathen said Crane Co. had a duty to warn, but instead made a "big deal" about just being the seller of the asbestos-containing gaskets and packing.

Wathen responded by saying Crane Co. should still be responsible for selling the products.

"It's a distinction without a difference, it doesn't matter," Wathen said.

Wathen said their duty to warn exceeded beyond just being the seller, because encasing the pre-manufactured asbestos products in the valves does not make them safe.

"They had no reason to believe that the asbestos would be magically coated that when it gets into the lungs it will have this cloak of purity," he said.

Wathen quoted OSHA's permitted limits of exposure, which allowed for .1 fibers per cc. However gasket work was determined to cause an average of .44 fibers per cc in an eight hour time frame.

"That right there tells you that those gaskets from a scientific and medical standards caused Tom King's mesothelioma. They don't have to be the cause, just a cause," he said.

"These are real world numbers, and in the real world, gaskets are capable of causing substantial asbestos exposure," he continued.

Wathen did not request the jury award a certain amount, but asked them to award full damages, referring to a sufficient amount.

"If you are going to give justice, don't give half-justice. Give full justice," Wathen said.

Crane Co. attorney Jim Lowery delivered the defense closing statements saying insulation caused King's mesothelioma, calling the "overwhelming" evidence "crystal clear."

"We contend, insulation exposures were the sole and only cause of Mr. King's illness," Lowery said.

He explained that there was up to 150 tons of asbestos-containing thermal insulation aboard U.S. Navy war ships compared to the 50 pounds of asbestos-containing gasket and packing material.

King even testified that he worked with asbestos-containing thermal insulation "very much" in his video deposition and said his mesothelioma was "compliments of the U.S. Navy."

"There is a boatload of amosite containing thermal insulation exposure," Lowery said.

He added that it was the Navy's responsibility to keep King safe and provide warnings.

"Ladies and gentlemen, the Navy let Mr. King die," he said.

Lowery admitted Crane Co. sold the Navy asbestos-containing products, but asked if the minimal exposure was more significant than King's work with thermal insulation.

"No question about it. We don't run from that. We're proud of what we did," Lowery said.

Lowery also addressed the fact that Cranite was not included on the qualified product list, meaning the Navy could not purchase it in bulk for supply storage used in gasket replacement work.

Finally, Lowery said that if the jury does find that Crane Co. was negligent, he requested they award a total of $300,000 - $150,000 for each brother.

"I don't believe you will get that far, but if you do, that's a fair number."

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

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