NEW YORK (Legal Newsline) — Asbestos firm Belluck and Fox won two multimillion-dollar verdicts in asbestos lawsuits against Burnham LLC in June, and one of its lawyers said he doesn’t expect the pace of such cases to slow, even decades after asbestos left common use.
A New York City Asbestos Litigation jury awarded the estate of Vincent Geritano $6.25 million on June 13 and another NYCAL jury awarded Frank Gondar $22 million on June 24. Both cases involved exposure to asbestos from boilers made by Burnham, and that exposure led to mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer that is the signature of asbestos exposure, according to Seth Dymond, a partner with Belluck and Fox.
The awards are in line with what other juries have decided over the past decade, he said.
“These are actually somewhat consistent with the range of jury awards that we've seen — not just my firm, but us in asbestos litigation — have seen, at least in New York City in the last 10 years or so,” Dymond told Legal Newsline.
“That kind of goes hand-in-hand with the fact that this is really one of the worst cancers you can get. It's terminal. It's usually extremely painful. There's a lot of physical suffering as well as mental suffering, and it's a very short time period between diagnosis and death.
"I think that is the most important factor in why juries look at this and say this worth a substantial amount of money.”
Geritano spent three years in the 1960s repairing and removing boilers, usually in residential buildings. The process of removing them was especially hazardous, Dymond said, because it was in an enclosed space and produced significant amounts of dust that contained asbestos.
“The claim against Burnham, which is generally the claim in most of these cases, is that they failed to warn Mr. Geritano of the hazards of asbestos associated with all the types of uses of the boilers, including service, maintenance and removal,” he said.
Geritano was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2014 and died seven months later at the age of 70.
Gondar, who is still alive, was a New York City police officer and then a teacher who also ran a part-time construction business from 1953 to 1973. Most of his work involved installing drywall and floor tiles in basements, and there were often other contractors there at the same time removing boilers, some of which were made by Burnham.
“So it's really the same exposure from removal that we had in Geritano,” Dymond said, “which is the sledgehammering of these boilers to get them out of the basement and the asbestos dust flying all over the basement.”
Even though the use of asbestos in the United States fell sharply after the 1970s, the way the disease proceeds makes it likely that people continue to be diagnosed well into the future, Dymond said.
“I personally do not expect it to go down,” he said. “The main reason is because this inherently is a disease that has a long latency period, meaning once you're exposed the earliest you really contract the disease is 15 years, and it can go as long as you live, so 50, 60 or more years.
"So what that means to me is that although a lot of the asbestos in the country was no longer used after, say the 70s, people, because of medicine and science are living longer. Let's say if someone had a heart attack, 30 years ago they might have died from the heart attack, but now medicine is at a point where we can save them from that. It could be that 10 years after that develops mesothelioma and they otherwise would not have.
"So I think the fact that people are living longer means that we're going to continue to have people at a steady rate that are developing this disease."