Practice Focuses - POSTED: 2010/06/16 17:00
A Philadelphia court has awarded more than $4.5 million to a mesothelioma plaintiff and his wife of 57 years. Few mesothelioma plaintiffs live long enough to hear a final verdict in their cases, making the outcome of this reverse bifurcated trial especially significant.
Waters & Kraus, LLP, and the Shein Law Center, LTD, served as plaintiff’s counsel for former U.S. Navy engineman John Koeberle. The plaintiff was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in April 2009. Under the reverse bifurcated system, Phase I requires a jury to first determine whether the plaintiff’s illness was caused by asbestos exposure. Neither the names of the manufacturers nor a suggested dollar amount for damages may be mentioned to the jury during this phase. According to Waters & Kraus attorney Demetrios Zacharopoulos, the team’s first order of business was to support the diagnosis of mesothelioma. Typically, the diagnosis is based on hard tissue samples, but Mr. Koeberle’s doctors advised that the physical risks associated with obtaining tissue samples from his lung were not in the plaintiff’s best interest. As a result, the diagnosis was made based on cytological examinations of fluids taken from Mr. Koeberle’s chest cavity — a diagnosis which was made by Mr. Koeberle’s treating physician and confirmed by Plaintiff’s medical expert Gordon Yu, M.D.
According to Mr. Koeberle’s testimony, his Naval duties from 1948 to 1957 included maintenance work on diesel engines, valves, and pumps requiring the replacement of asbestos-containing gasket and packing materials. Frequently, the removal of these materials involved scraping and wire-brushing, which generated conditions he described as “very dusty.” In addition, the process of inserting new gaskets and packing often involved cutting sheet material to fabricate a custom fit.
After a nine-day trial, the jury concluded that Mr. Koeberle’s exposure to asbestos was indeed a contributing cause of his mesothelioma. Mr. Koeberle was awarded $3 million under the Survival Act, and Mrs. Koeberle was awarded $1.5 million for loss of consortium, or deprivation of the benefits of a family relationship due to illness or injury.
The Phase II liability proceeding was a bench trial in which the court found John Crane Inc., the lone remaining defendant of seven original manufacturers in the case, liable for Mr. Koeberle’s illness under Section 402A’s strict liability rule. The plaintiff recalled seeing the name of the defendant and manufacturer, John Crane Inc., on the boxes he used while maintaining and repairing equipment for the Navy.
The judge ruled that Mr. Koeberle’s exposure to John Crane asbestos-containing gaskets and packing was a factual cause in the development of Mr. Koeberle’s mesothelioma. As a result, John Crane is liable for one-seventh of the amount of damages rendered by the Jury in Phase I.
Although Mr. Koeberle was too ill to be in the courtroom when the final decision was announced on June 3, WK attorney Demetrios Zacharopoulos said the plaintiff and his family are both pleased and relieved.
“These cases are never easy,” explained Mr. Zacharopoulos. “As with all of our cases, we pushed to expedite proceedings — and in this instance, Mr. Koeberle and his family were able to witness justice being rendered and having John Crane held accountable for its actions. They’re very pleased with the result, and they’re relieved that they can now move on and experience some closure.”
About Waters & Kraus, LLP
Waters & Kraus, LLP, is a plaintiffs’ firm concentrating on complex product liability and personal injury/wrongful death cases. The firm’s diverse practice includes toxic tort (asbestos and mesothelioma) litigation, pharmaceutical product liability, negligence, and consumer product liability, as well as qui tam (whistle-blower), and commercial litigation. With offices in Maryland, Texas, California, and Waters & Kraus has litigated cases in jurisdictions across the United States on behalf of individuals from all 50 states, as well as foreign governments.