Juries continue to award big verdicts to workers who develop the deadly form of lung cancer known as mesothelioma after working with asbestos products.
In the most recent jury trial, the family of a New York pipefitter who was exposed to asbestos for more than a decade won a $3 million award.
Gerald Suttner worked at the GM Powertrain facility in Tonawanda, N.Y. for nearly four decades. Suttner repaired valves made by Crane Co. with gaskets containing asbestos. Suttner was diagnosed in 2010 with mesothelioma, a cancer that destroys the lung’s lining, and died a year later at age 77.
His wife, Joanne, sued Crane Co. and 17 other manufacturers, arguing that they knew of the hazards of asbestos as early as the 1930s but continued to use the toxic product into the late 1980s without putting warning labels on its products.
“The defendant’s use of asbestos and failure to warn workers and consumers of its dangers is inexcusable,” said Perry Browder of Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd, who represented the family.
The attorneys argued Suttner’s death was avoidable. Suttner retired from the GM plant in 1997 and became an active volunteer for Shriners Children’s Hospital, perhaps motivated by his own disabled daughter, whom he also cared for. As a national officer of the hospital, Suttner drove children to and from the hospital, wrote articles for the organization’s national magazine, and played in a band to raise money for the hospital.
“Jerry was a good man who worked hard his entire life to take care of his family and make his community a better place. He gave selflessly to people whom he had never met because that’s the kind of man he was,” said Myles Epperson, another attorney for the family. “His death, which could have been prevented, was a significant loss both to his family and to so many others whose lives he touched.”
After a three-week trial, the jury held Crane Co. and 17 other asbestos makers responsible for Suttner’s mesothelioma, awarding $3 million to his wife and adult daughter.
“Mr. Suttner worked hard in order to provide for his family, and he always played by the rules. … It appears that this jury sent a strong message to defendant Crane Co., that it, too, should have played by the rules that govern honorable behavior by warning Mr. Suttner about the dangers of handling its products,” said Michael A. Ponterio of Lipsitz & Ponterio, who also represented the family.
By Sylvia Hsieh, Jury Awards Products Liability
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