Here at Kazan Law, one of the top asbestos litigation law firms in the nation, all of our attorneys excel at advocating for victims of asbestos exposure and their families. But in the 40 years that we have been practicing asbestos litigation, one of the best attorneys I’ve had working here was Dianna Lyons.
So for today’s Throwback Thursday post commemorating Kazan Law’s 40th Anniversary, I spoke with Dianna, who retired from Kazan Law in December.
Unlike most attorneys, Dianna Lyons came from a family of California migrant farm workers. This background gave her a powerful connection to our clients. To all of us who work so vigorously to get justice for asbestos victims, our clients become almost like family. That was certainly true for Dianna, and that gave her an intensity and focus we all admired.
“Every client I ever represented for Kazan Law was a salt-of-the-earth type of person. Working long hours on their cases in a race with the Grim Reaper, I’d get to know them all really well. And I’d realize that had we met under different circumstances, we would have been friends. I’d look at them and think this guy went to work to make a living, not to die, and not to kill his wife or his kids. People who made and sold the asbestos materials knew of the dangers of asbestos exposure and just gambled with someone else’s life,” reflects Dianna.
When Dianna joined us in 1992, she had been working for the United Farm Workers, the grassroots organization started by Dolores Huerta and Cesar Chavez to help protect the safety and basic rights of farm workers. She had been with the UFW since its founding in 1966 during the era of the famous grape boycott.
Dianna had worked her way through Modesto Junior College and Cal State Stanislaus milking 150 cows twice a day. She told me she switched to working nights for an insurance company to put herself through law school at UC Davis.
“It paid less but I didn’t get kicked,” she quipped.
During her 22 years here, Dianna Lyons started our appellate and motion department. She also never let being a woman in a male-dominated field get in her way.
“In my family, what mattered was how fast you were at picking fruit in the fields. Not whether you were a male or female. So I never had a mindset with gender boundaries.”
Dianna said that one major difference from when she started at Kazan Law happened when the companies that made the most obvious sources of asbestos exposure such as pipe covering and block insulation began to shield themselves from asbestos litigation by declaring bankruptcy. Asbestos litigation work became more challenging because we had to find the less obvious asbestos exposures from such products as gaskets, valve packing and vehicle brakes that contributed to causing our client’s usually terminal disease.
“We couldn’t sue the pipe covering manufacturer because they’d gone bankrupt, so we had to go after the companies that made the gaskets, packing, brakes and other construction materials,” she recalled.
“In a case that Frank Fernandez and I tried about 14 years ago, the client had worked for Johns-Manville. They went bankrupt and sold the plant. Our client made plastic pipe but to get to his job, he had to walk through the part of the plant where they made asbestos cement pipe. That is where the asbestos exposure came from. We got a $20 million verdict,” she said.
“One thing that always remained the same is the dedication and zeal at our firm. I liked that we always did quality work. Sure, it involved a lot of 16 hour days seven days a week. But there was never a dull moment. There is something about knowing you are doing a righteous job for a really good human being that gives you energy,” Dianna said.