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Man Exposed to Asbestos Receives $14.5 Million in Punitive Damages

If you are injured due to the negligent actions of another, you should be entitled to compensation for your personal injuries. However, if the other party acted with malice, fraud or oppression in causing your actions, you may also be entitled to punitive damages-additional damages awarded under the law to punish a defendant.

The recent California Court of Appeal case of Pfeifer v. John Crane, Inc., discusses a situation where a worker exposed to asbestos due to a manufacturer’s dangerous products received more than $14 million in punitive damages.

Mesothelioma From Asbestos Exposure

The victim had worked for the Navy and later the United States government as a boiler tender and technician. The victim’s job involved working with gaskets and packing containing asbestos. The air he breathed often became very dusty.

Years later, the victim developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos. Specifically, the victim alleged the exposure was partially due to a manufacturer who was a key supplier of the gaskets and packing he used in his job. The work the victim did with the products released asbestos fibers into the air leading to his mesothelioma.

The lower court found in favor of the victim. The jury awarded the victim more than $3 million in economic and other damages, as well as an additional $14.5 million in punitive damages. The manufacturer appealed on numerous grounds, including the allegation that the award of punitive damages was not supported by the evidence and was excessive.

Acting With Malice

The California Court of Appeal noted that in this case the manufacturer discovered the asbestos dust was hazardous in the 1970s and took actions to protect its own employees, such as monitoring the air in its own factories and using engineering controls to suppress dust levels. Thus, the evidence supported the inference that the manufacturer knew its products were likely to pose a danger, but failed to warn others.

According to testimony, the manufacturer was aware that boiler technicians or others replacing gaskets would use procedures that would create asbestos dust, yet the manufacturer never tested the products. One expert testified that certain procedures the victim performed using the products released concentrations of asbestos fibers thousands of times greater than ordinary background levels of asbestos.

The Court of Appeals concluded that the manufacturer’s despicable conduct in this product liability case, in conjunction with its conscious disregard of the safety of others, was sufficient to show malice, and the award of punitive damages was affirmed.

Accountability for Dangerous Products

If a dangerous product causes you or a loved one serious injury or even causes the loss of life, you may be entitled to compensation from the parties involved in that product, from the manufacturer who produced it, to the retailer who sold it. If you believe this is the case, it is crucial that you contact an experienced products liability lawyer who will help you to hold the responsible parties accountable for your injuries.

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