A Los Angeles jury has awarded $8.8M in compensatory damages and $200M in punitive damages in Evans v. A.W. Chesterton, an asbestos trial against defendants CertainTeed and the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power (DWP).
Fault was allocated 70% to CertainTeed and 30% to DWP, but the punitive damage award was only against CertainTeed.
Rhoda Evans contracted mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos fibers that entered Evans’ home on the clothing of her husband Bobby, who cut asbestos pipes for DWP for twenty years.
The 12-person jury heard closing arguments on April 26, 2010.
In closing, plaintiff attorney Bill Levin argued that “CertainTeed is responsible because they sold a product containing a carcinogen without a warning. They absolutely knew that safer alternatives were available…There’s a big difference between a corporation that makes a product and 100% knows that there’s a deadly carcinogen — the worst deadly carcinogen, crocidolite — a company that knows that, and sells it anyway — a big difference between that and a water district that’s just trying to supply water service to a community.”
Los Angeles City Attorney for DWP, Will Pirkey, argued that the DWP “didn’t believe there was a risk to installers because that’s what the manual said…There are line drawings of a worker who is using the various methods of cutting the pipe or handling the pipe. In each and every drawing…there’s no mask. There’s no special clothing of any kind. There’s no gloves, no goggles, no hat. There’s nothing..We did comply with those work manuals…In 1971, the manual came out again, what did it say? Use an electric power saw. It’s ok. 1974, another manual comes out, what does it say? Use an electric power saw…We were never told that if you use a power saw, be it electric or be it gas, that there was going to result in unacceptable levels of exposure to asbestos.”
According to CertainTeed attorney William Sayers, “with manual tools, you get zero exposure levels…[DWP] knew generally about the hazards, they knew not to use the gas powered saw…and the next year DWP started doing it. That’s the evidence in this case…They were cutting safely until 1978.”