San Francisco, CA — May 19, 2003 — A San Francisco jury awarded over $1.1 million to a stationary engineer suffering from asbestosis due to his exposure to asbestos. A serious respiratory disease, asbestosis is a scarring of the lungscaused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers.
The plaintiff worked at commercial laundries owned by Community Linen. For 35 years, his job included maintaining laundry equipment. He removed and replaced asbestos–containing binders, pads, and covers—items manufactured by the defendants, American Laundry Machinery, Inc., and its predecessor companies.
San Francisco Superior Court Judge Ernest H. Goldsmith presided over the seven–week trial. The jury heard testimony from the plaintiff's experts about asbestos, medical diagnosis, epidemiology, and industrial hygiene. The plaintiff's witnesses also included his 87–year old former employer and a co–worker. Both the plaintiff and his co–worker produced and described American Laundry Machinery product manuals that detailed the asbestos in the company products.
During discovery, American Laundry Machinery, Inc., had denied that its laundry equipment incorporated asbestos–containing materials. However, the company did not produce a corporate witness during the trial and called only one expert witness. American Laundry Machinery, Inc. also denied that it was the legal successor in interest to earlier versions of the same company dating to the early 1900s. The plaintiff produced evidence that the companies were indeed the same entity.
The jury awarded the plaintiff $108, 000 in economic damages and $1 million in non–economic damages. This is the first judgment against American Laundry Machinery, Inc. in an asbestos case."We are pleased with the verdict," said Patricia Henle, an attorney for the plaintiff. "I think the jury could tell that our client was an honest, deserving man. Defense counsel's attacks on him were very much unwarranted. The jury also understood that the defendant was not—in a manner of speaking—coming clean in its defense approach, which ran the full spin cycle from 'we are not the successor company involved in this' to claiming that the plaintiff was not sick. It is refreshing to see a jury be 'stronger than dirt'—a concept this defendant understands."
Patricia Henle of the Law Offices of Patricia E. Henle, San Francisco (on contract with Brayton Purcell), and Gilbert Purcell of Brayton Purcell in Novato, California, represented the plaintiff. The defendants were represented by Gary Drummond and David Gifford of Stevens, Drummond & Gifford of Walnut Creek, California.