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Talking With Dianna Lyons, A Fearless Ally in Asbestos Litigation

Dianna Lyons

Dianna Lyons

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.

Kazan Law’s 1988 Victory: Proposition 97 and the Restoration of Cal/OSHA

Cal/OSHA

A younger Barack Obama shakes hands with Kazan Law’s Fran Schreiberg

At Kazan Law, most of our clients who are suffering from the devastating effects of asbestos exposure were hard-working trusting people all their lives.  That is until mesothelioma or other illnesses caused by asbestos exposure deprived them of their ability to work. All because an employer or parts manufacturer exploited their work ethic and loyalty.

My advocacy work on behalf of these workers and their families, some of who are also suffering from asbestos exposure, has made me very committed to the rights to protection of working people. For today’s “Throwback Thursday” post commemorating Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary, I am going to tell you about a special time in 1988 when we really had to stand up for those rights.

I was appalled when in 1987 California Governor George Deukmejian, in apparent cooperation with big business interests closed California’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health Administration (DOSH or Cal/OSHA).

Workers have a right to a safe place to work.   They should be able to work without risk of workplace injuries, illnesses and death. Clearly Gov. Deukmejian didn’t think so.

In 1983 Deukmejian fired 83 staff members of Cal/OSHA and the following year he ordered a hiring freeze. During his first term in office work-related injuries increased more than 20% as Cal/OSHA’s on-site inspections decreased by 74%.  Then after four years of weakening California’s worker safety, he dismantled Cal/OSHA. Not coincidentally, Deukmejian had received $8 million in political contributions for his reelection campaign from big business. It was no surprise when he shut Cal/OSHA’s doors, returning the program to Federal OSHA despite the knowledge that the federal government’s worker safety program was not nearly as effective as the California program.

California’s outraged attorney general John Van de Kamp was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, “What the governor is proposing is nothing less than a lethal game of buck-passing. It sends a message of indifference bordering on contempt to California’s working men and women.”

I thought so too.  And I wasn’t the only one. I volunteered on behalf of Kazan Law to represent the California Trial Lawyers Association (now known as Consumer Attorneys of California) on a coalition to restore Cal/OSHA.

We called ourselves WORKSAFE! .  Representing the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California was a very dedicated labor attorney named Frances Schreiberg. The coalition worked with the California Labor Federation, AFL-CIO and the State Building & Construction Trades Council of California to draft an initiative that became Prop 97.  It called for the legislature to restore Cal/OSHA program with  a budget sufficient to minimize the risk to workers from industrial injuries, illnesses and exposure to toxic substances including exposure to asbestos. It was a tough fight but we succeeded. Cal/OSHA was restored. I hired Fran Schreiberg as a pro bono counsel to advocate for worker safety on a policy level.  Worksafe continues to advocate for worker safety and Fran, as a founding mother, still works closely with the organization.

 

Deadline Nears For 2014 Broussard Law School Scholarship Applications

Broussard Law School Scholarship

Justice Allen E. Broussard

As asbestos litigation attorneys, we at Kazan Law excel at what we do and it is always exhilarating when we are able to give back to our clients some of the hopes and dreams that mesothelioma took from them.  But we also like giving back in ways that help the hopes and dreams of the communities around us. That includes the Oakland community where our offices are located and the legal community we are so proud to be a part of.

One of the ways we do that makes a meaningful contribution to both of these wonderful communities. That is our foundation’s support for The Allen E. Broussard Scholarship Fund which was established in 1996 after the death of California Supreme Court Associate Justice Allen E. Broussard, and was incorporated as the Allen E. Broussard Scholarship Foundation in 1999. The goal of the foundation is to continue Justice Broussard’s work in the minority community by assisting law students from underrepresented backgrounds in their pursuit of a career in the legal profession.

Born in Lake Charles, Louisiana in 1929, Allen E. Broussard came to the Bay Area with his family as a teenager. He began his years of community service at age 16 while attending San Francisco City College. Here he started his lifelong efforts to ensure equal rights for African Americans in the workforce. Justice Broussard was instrumental in getting the first African Americans hired as a high school teacher and police officer in San Francisco.

Justice Broussard worked diligently to expand opportunities within the legal profession. One of his goals was the diversification of the profession; making sure all minorities are given the opportunity to rise and “take a place at the table,” as he was fond of saying.

Having served as Chairman of the Board of Directors of the Allen E. Broussard Law School Scholarship Foundation for over a decade, I am honored each year to present three or more academically qualified students from economically challenged backgrounds with a $5,000 scholarship. This award is the largest private scholarship award for law students attending California Bay Area law schools. Four students received the award last year.

The deadline for applying for the 2014 scholarships is this month. Email info@broussard-scholarship.org or call (415) 983-7680 for more information.

Appellate Court Decides in Favor of Victim in Ford Mesothelioma Case

mesothelioma caseSometimes even in the tragic world of a mesothelioma case, there is reason to celebrate.  At Kazan Law that is what keeps us doing what we do.  When we snatch victory from the jaws of defeat for our clients through tenacious asbestos litigation and are able to get justice in a mesothelioma case, it’s a good day.

In our latest victory, we achieved justice for not only the specific mesothelioma case we were representing but for all mesothelioma cases.  That is because the court upheld two important principles in asbestos law:

  1. That the average working person cannot be expected to have the same level of scientific knowledge about the long term consequences of asbestos exposure that the decision-makers at a large company should have.
  2. That a company cannot be let off the hook for causing injury to someone in one state because the laws of the state where the company has its headquarters are different.

These are important concepts. We are very proud of our work in this case well handled by Ted Pelletier and our appellate and motions team, and of the brilliant appellate court that protected the rights of all citizens.

Specifically, a California appellate court upheld a $1.5 million judgment for our client Patrick Scott and his family. They also decided that the Scotts should be allowed to pursue punitive damages which the trial court had said they couldn’t do.

Scott, a former service-station owner, was exposed to asbestos from car parts made by Ford Motor Company since the 1960s.  In a published opinion in Scott v. Ford Motor Co., No. A137975, Division One of the First Appellate District first rejected Ford’s argument that Scott was a “sophisticated user” who should have known the dangers of Ford’s products.  Because Ford insisted during the trial that those dangers were not scientifically established when Scott was exposed, the jury rejected Ford’s contradictory claim that he was supposed to know all about those very dangers.  The opinion notes that there are different standards for what Scott as owner of a “local automotive business,” was expected to know compared to what Ford, a “large international business directly involved in the manufacture of the products” should have known.

The opinion also reinstates the Scotts’ claim for punitive damages, which the lower court had rejected because the law in Michigan, where Ford is headquartered, disallows punitive damages.  Every part of this case occurred in California: Ford’s sale of its products; Scott’s exposures, his disease diagnosis and treatment.  So the appeals court decided California law is what matters here.  Otherwise Ford would get a free pass or as they put it “a nationwide shield from punitive damage liability,” to sell defective products in California and every other state without fear of punishment.  That would be a nightmare not just for mesothelioma cases but for every case that could result from driving a car with parts that malfunctioned.

Kazan Law Staff Runs For Justice

Kazan Law Run for Justice team members

Kazan Law staff all work very hard for our clients with mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases.  As you might guess, asbestos litigation is very demanding stressful work but work we firmly believe in. And to keep doing it as best we can, it is good for all of us to let off steam now and then.  And it is great for the teamwork of the firm when Kazan Law staff can do something fun all together.  It is especially wonderful when we can do fun activities that also benefit a good cause.

That’s exactly what some Kazan Law staff did recently when we had our very own Run for Justice Team participating in the 5th annual Oakland Running Festival. The Oakland Running Festival raises much-needed funds for the local community. In its first four years, according to official Running Festival information, it has generated an estimated $12 million in economic activity for the city of Oakland and $1 million for local charities.

As the Oakland Running Festival marathon began Sunday morning, according to a local newspaper report, the sun was just starting to come up and the air was cool — welcome weather for the 1,099 marathon runners who attempted the 26.2-mile course around the city.

Nearly 10,000 runners showed up to participate in the marathon, half-marathon, 5K or kids’ races. And among that happy throng of 10,000 was our own group of Kazan staff runners.  Those who crossed the finish line include:

5K: Adrian Elfenbaum (Settlement Administrator)

Half-Marathon: Gordon Greenwood (Partner), Caitlin McEldrew (Paralegal), Jazmin Solorzano (Legal Assistant)

Marathon Relay: Sophie Noero (WorkSafe employee), Matt Thiel (Associate), Tara Runyan (IT Director), Ny Kundidzora (Paralegal)

Marathon: Michael Stewart (Associate), Justin Bosl (Partner)

“Congratulations to everyone that came out yesterday to Run for Justice at the Oakland Running Festival. As always, it was a great event and it was great to see some Kazan t-shirts out there!”  Kazan Law partner and marathon race participant Justin Bosl said in an email to the staff.

“And thank you to everyone who volunteered for the event. Finally, thanks to anyone who came out to cheer us on.”

1976 News Clip Highlights 1st Wave of Asbestos Lawsuits in the Bay Area

 

asbestos lawsuits

If you were playing a trivia game and were asked, “What company is the one most associated with asbestos lawsuits?” The answer of course, would be Johns Manville.

But there was a time not too long ago when not many people aside from employees and shareholders knew the name Johns Manville.  And asbestos lawsuits were almost unheard of.  Workers did not think they would ever stand a chance of prevailing against a big company and their attorneys if they even got their asbestos lawsuits to court.  So big companies could use workers up like Kleenex and outright lie to them about the lethal health consequences of asbestos exposure.

Then in the 1970s, things began to change.  Due in part to the social movements of the late 1960s like the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Movement, the Environmental Movement, people began to feel they were empowered and had a voice. The first big wave of asbestos lawsuits began to emerge.

As we commemorate Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary this month, I came across a 1976 clipping from the San Francisco Chronicle about that first wave of asbestos lawsuits stemming from the Johns Manville plant in nearby Pittsburg, CA.  This was one of the first media stories about this landmark development.  I am proud to have been chosen as a young attorney to be on that case and interviewed for the article.

Workers at the Johns Manville plant were suing a former company physician on the grounds that he deliberately withheld information from the workers that they had asbestosis.   Here’s what I said to the reporter:

“We contend that the doctor was negligent and the company submitted the men to deliberate exposure,” said attorney Steven Kazan.”

“They went for years without telling the guys they had lung problems developing so they could be treated and their exposure stopped,” Kazan said bitterly.

This was my first brush with asbestos lawsuits, an area of law that was to become my life’s work. I recall feeling outraged at the time that anyone would violate all standards of human decency by causing the deaths of other humans for profit.  I filed my first Johns Manville case in 1974 and now 40 years later, I still feel the same way.

Kazan Law’s $27 Million Mesothelioma Verdict Makes National Law Journal’s Top 100 Verdicts for 2013

mesothelioma verdictHere at Kazan Law, when we are working with a client who is suffering from malignant mesothelioma due to unlawful asbestos exposure, that client is our focus.  Because of the terrible wrong done to them and their family, their time is limited. Their life has been cut short and we take it upon ourselves to work to the utmost of our ability to seek justice for them.  We do this work because we believe it needs to be done; not to pat ourselves on the back.  That is the furthest thing from our minds when we are working on behalf of someone losing their life to malignant mesothelioma.

So it is always gratifying to us at Kazan Law when the work we do on behalf of our clients is acknowledged by our peers.

I am proud to announce that our June 5, 2013 mesothelioma verdict which completed the award to plaintiffs Rose-Marie and Martin Grigg for a total of $27,342,500 in damages for Mrs. Grigg’s asbestos-caused malignant mesothelioma made The National Law Journal’s  elite list of Top 100 Verdicts for 2013. The mesothelioma verdict placed 74 out of 100 nationally and 12th out of 100 nationwide among personal injury/products liability cases brought on behalf of an individual.

The National Law Journal is a periodical that reports legal information of national importance to attorneys, including federal circuit court decisions, major verdicts and coverage of legislative issues and legal news. Its annual Top 100 Verdicts issue catalogs the top accomplishments of the plaintiff’s lawyers in the U.S.

Mrs. Grigg, was exposed to asbestos in the course of shaking out and washing her husband’s work clothing. Mrs. Grigg’s then husband was an insulator for a company that used Owens-Illinois, Inc. Kaylo brand insulation products from 1950-1958.

Mrs. and Mr. Grigg were represented by our attorneys Joseph D. Satterley, Andrea Huston, Ryan Harris and Michael Stewart.

Evidence introduced during trial showed that Owens-Illinois, Inc. knew that asbestos exposure could cause death as early as the 1930s and that test results on Kaylo showed that exposure to the asbestos in the product could cause fatal disease.

The jury awarded Mrs. Grigg $12,000,000 in damages for her pain and suffering, Mr. Grigg $4,000,000 in damages for his loss of consortium, and $342,500 in economic damages. The jury also levied an $11,000,000 punitive damages verdict against Owens-Illinois, Inc.

“If we live in a society where product manufacturers are not held responsible for products once those products leave their possession, the world we live in is a dangerous place,” Kazan Law partner Joseph D. Satterley said to the jury when he asked them to find justice for Mrs. and Mr. Grigg.

Kazan Law Proud to Continue Support for Philip A. Harley Memorial Mock Trial Competition

Moreau_team_50Here at Kazan Law our top priority is seeking justice for our clients who are asbestos exposure victims. A big part of doing that is taking a big picture approach that encompasses the past, the present, and the future.

We fight hard for our clients in the present but we hope there will be no victims of asbestos exposure in the future. In fact we hope for a future with fewer victims of any kind of crime and a better understanding of the laws that help us all create a more civil and equitable society.

Philip A. HarleyTo help forge that kind of future, our firm funds a very important educational activity in our local high schools called a “mock trial competition.” And in doing this we honor our firm’s past by dedicating the competition to the memory of our dear friend and partner Philip A. Harley. (1947-2009).

During his career, Phil was a dedicated attorney for victims of asbestos exposure and other catastrophic, toxic -related diseases and injuries. He believed his knowledge and skills were best used to assist those who have been the most severely impacted by corporate misconduct.  He always made a point of supporting consumer advocacy programs including trial-related education programs.

We are proud that the Alameda County Philip A.Harley Memorial Mock Trial Competition has become an annual testament to Phil’s legacy of justice and advocacy. The competition is a countywide high school criminal trial program designed to increase understanding of our judicial system and the processes necessary to create a just society. Student teams of ten to twenty students study a hypothetical case, conduct legal research, and receive individual coaching by volunteer attorneys in trial preparation, courtroom protocol, courtroom procedure, analytical skills, and communication skills.

Congratulations to Moreau Catholic High School in Hayward for taking first place at the Alameda County Philip A. Harley Memorial Mock Trial final competition. They will represent Alameda County at the state competition on March 21-23 in San Jose. We are pleased to continue supporting this event in Phil’s honor.

FAIR Act Would Have Been Unfair to Asbestos Victims

12_27_05_Daily_JournalAs we celebrate Kazan Law’s 40th anniversary with “Throwback Thursday” posts about the firm’s history, I recall a time not too long ago when the firm almost ceased to exist.  Powerful corporate interests fueled a push for federal legislation that would have made all asbestos law firms extinct.  And Kazan Law, one of the best asbestos law firms in the US, would no longer have been able to advocate for mesothelioma patients and other asbestos victims whose lives have been devastated by being exposed to asbestos.

The 2005 legislation was cleverly named “The FAIR Act” – The Fairness in Asbestos Injury Resolution Act – but it would have been profoundly unfair to those asbestos victims with a claim to bring against a company who had knowingly caused them to be exposed to asbestos.

The FAIR Act, if it had been enacted into law, would have prohibited injured asbestos victims from bringing asbestos claims against individual defendants.  They would have had to file asbestos claims with an Orwellian-sounding Office of Asbestos Disease Compensation. This Office would have administered a fund called the Asbestos Injury Claims Resolution Fund. A panel would have determined each victim’s compensation amount, if any. Victims who developed fatal asbestos related cancers such as mesothelioma, asbestosis, or lung cancer would have been limited to $1 million in compensation.  Totally inadequate.

Companies guilty of grave misdeeds and crimes against innocent people would have gotten off with a pittance.  And I, my partners and my entire staff would have been out of a job.

“I have threatened one of my partners that his new full-time job will be to teach me how to play golf,” I told a reporter for the San Francisco Daily Journal, a local legal newspaper, for an article about the proposed legislation at the time.  “I will probably retire.”

That was almost a decade ago.   The FAIR Act was an unfair bad idea and it was justifiably defeated. It never became law.  Kazan Law has gone on to win multi-million dollar verdicts for our clients, several in this past year. We remain engaged and impassioned about seeking justice for asbestos victims.  And I still haven’t needed to learn to play golf.

Read the December 27, 2005 article from the Daily Journal.

Some Things Still Ring True After Four Decades of Asbestos Litigation

Asbestos Litigation Steven Kazan 1985This month Kazan Law celebrates four decades of obtaining justice for asbestos victims.  To commemorate the occasion, we are taking a look at the firm’s history to participate in our own unique way in social media’s Throwback Thursday. In my last post, I talked about how I founded Kazan Law in March 1974 when as a young attorney I found myself representing dying workers. They had been exposed to asbestos because of a company whose name now has become synonymous with asbestos litigation:  Johns Manville.  It was a landmark case that set a legal precedent and launched me on my journey of handling over a thousand of asbestos litigation cases.

In the firm’s archives, I found an interview I gave to the California edition of the Daily Journal, a legal community newspaper, in 1985. Some of what I said then about asbestos litigation still rings true now.  So for Throwback Thursday, here are several excerpts:

Working with asbestos-related clients is both depressing and rewarding, according to Oakland attorney Steven Kazan who heads one of the Bay Area’s major plaintiff’s asbestos practices.  “As much as you try to retain a sense of detachment, you get involved,” said Kazan, the founder of Kazan & McClain. But helping to obtain financial security for asbestos victims dying of chronic disease is rewarding.

Still true.  Except today it is Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, A Professional Law Corporation.

Kazan said his firm will look at about 1,800 possible cases this year, 1,000 of them asbestos-related and take only about 100 of them, the article states.

Factors Kazan uses in evaluating potential cases include:

  • the degree of disability

  • the evidence of asbestos exposure

  • potential monetary damages

Also still true.

Kazan said he sometimes advises people with minor asbestos-related problems to wait and see if their illness progresses to avoid settling for an amount of money that will not cover their medical expenses if their condition worsens.

Still good advice.

Although exposure to asbestos has greatly decreased due to public awareness of its dangers, may people have been exposed but not yet become ill and Kazan predicted that he won’t have to change his practice much in the near future.

“For the next 10 to 15 years there will be a substantial volume of asbestos litigation,” Kazan said.

Sadly, this also has proved to be true.  In fact, it’s been more than 25 years and the need to help obtain financial security for asbestos victims continues to drive myself and my associates forward in our work more than ever.

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