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Mesothelioma Verdict Withstands Second Appeal

A mesothelioma verdict was recently upheld by the California Court of Appeal, First District (Hellam v. Crane Co. (2015) 239 Cal.App.4th 851).  Our team from Kazan Law successfully defeated a second attempt by Crane Co. to use James Hellam’s mesothelioma settlements to reduce the economic-damages award it must pay.  Mr. Hellam died from mesothelioma he developed from exposure to asbestos in Crane Co.’s products while working at his grandfather’s boiler service when he was a teenager.

Threat to How Mesothelioma Settlements Are Used to Reduce Economic Damages Defeated

In its second thwarted attempt to reduce the Hellam family’s economic-damages award, Crane Co. tried to get the courts to reconfigure the entire way mesothelioma settlement amounts are applied to reduce economic damages in wrongful death and personal injury cases.

In its decision to deny that request, the court characterized Crane Co.’s proposed change to the method of using mesothelioma settlements to calculate the setoff for economic damages as being “completely at odds” with California law.  If it had been successful, the change Crane Co. sought could have significantly reduced, if not completely erased, the jury’s award of $937,882.56 in economic damages to Mr. Hellam.

Hellam affirms California’s long-standing method for allocating pre-verdict mesothelioma settlement proceeds to determine the defendant’s setoff for economic damages.  I see this case as a great example that demonstrates how our current judicial system works.

This decision has a broader impact to plaintiffs, especially those involved in multi-defendant tort actions.  It preserves public policies that are strongly reflected in the law, including encouraging mesothelioma settlements and maximizing the injured plaintiff’s recovery from the at-fault parties.

Kazan Law partners Dianna Lyons and Frank Fernandez, both now retired, tried and won the mesothelioma case against Crane Co.  Kazan Law of counsel Ted Pelletier and associate Ian Rivamonte successfully handled the appeal.

Economic Damages Part of Mesothelioma Verdict Upheld

Crane Co. attempted with this second appeal to increase the amount of a mesothelioma settlement credit the company was entitled to for economic damages. But the appellate court rejected this proposed change.

While Crane Co. tried to base this second appeal on how mesothelioma settlements should be used to reduce economic damages, its first appeal challenged the jury decision over its liability in the case. The appellate court held that evidence supported the finding that Crane’s gaskets and cement were defectively designed because they emitted and exposed Hellam to significant levels of toxic asbestos fibers during ordinary use.

This appellate decision made in April 2014 affirmed the trial court’s award of over $85,000 in litigation costs to Mr. Hellam and the following compensation for damages:

Economic damages = $937,882.56

Non-economic damages = $4,500,000.00

Total = $5,437,882.56

Mesothelioma Verdict Based on Teenage Asbestos Exposure

As a teenager, Mr. Hellam worked for his grandfather’s one man boiler service operation, over the course of five summers between 1962 and 1966.  Mr. Hellam’s grandfather purchased Cranite gaskets and a dry powdered cement product from Crane Co’s wholesale outlet in Salinas, California.  When Mr. Hellam mixed that powdered material with water to form a slurry in the process of refurbishing boilers, and cut sheet gasket material in the refurbishing process, he inadvertently inhaled asbestos dust.

Because the products carried no warnings, Mr. Hellam’s grandfather did not know to take precautions for himself and his grandson in handling the Crane Co. products or to choose a substitute product that did not contain asbestos. Mr. Hellam had no asbestos exposure during the rest of his career. He was a San Jose, California police officer for 13 years before becoming a motivational speaker for the next 31 years of his life.

A Hall of Fame softball player, Hellam had taken pride in coaching both of his sons in softball and had eagerly anticipated teaching his grandsons how to play. He also was looking forward to continuing his career in worldwide motivational speaking which allowed him to travel around the globe.

Then suddenly, his once rich and full life came to a halt.  Instead of doing the things he loved, he was forced to focus his dwindling energy on battling malignant mesothelioma – a battle he sadly lost.

Now with this second appeal upholding the full $5.4 million mesothelioma verdict we won for him, we hope Mr. Hellam’s family can find some peace and that this tragic case now can be closed.

 

Workplace Safety Report Highlights Hazardous Conditions

workplace safety

Workplace safety is something we take for granted. We just assume that when we go to work the elevators in the building will run properly, that the electrical outlets are grounded and safe and that the air we breathe is clean and healthy. But for many people, even here in socially conscious California, the workplace can be full of dangers; some even fatal. And all because the decision makers decided to try to squeeze out some extra profit at the expense of workplace safety by cutting corners.

Workplace Safety Lapses Cataloged by Watchdog Group

Workplace safety is supposed to be the province of the state government’s Division of Occupational Safety and Health, better known as Cal/OSHA. Cal/OSHA’s mission is to protect workers from health and safety hazards on the job in the workplace in California through its research and standards, enforcement, and consultation programs. But Cal/OSHA is not popular with the big business interests that donate heavily to political campaigns. So Cal/OSHA is woefully underfunded and understaffed.

To counter the lapses in workplace safety accountability here, my colleague Fran Schreiberg, partner Denise Abrams and others started a watchdog group called WorkSafe. Fran, who is Kazan Law of Counsel, represents us at WorkSafe. She recently told us that WorkSafe’s annual report, called “Dying at Work”, cataloging California workplace fatalities and injuries, has just been published. Because of the difficulty of obtaining data about laborers, especially undocumented laborers, who were killed or injured on the job, there is a necessary time lag in WorkSafe’s annual report. This year’s report presents final statistics for 2013 and some data for 2014.

Every year, the release of this report is a sobering reminder of the real consequences of unabated hazards and employer defiance, of the prioritizing of profit over the people whose labor makes it possible.

Workplace Safety Report Fatality Findings

The following list are some of the shocking findings and workplace safety problems facing California:

  • A total of 396 California workers died on the job in 2013. This is believed to be an undercount because it does not include undocumented workers and those who will die years later from workplace exposure to hazards like asbestos
  • Transportation incidents account for the largest number of fatalities at 35%
  • Exposure to harmful substances accounts for 10%
  • Falls, slips and trips account for 16%
  • Men account for 92% and women 8% of all fatalities
  • Workers between the ages of 35 and 54 account for about 50% of all fatalities
  • Workers identified as Hispanic were 49% of the total, white made up 41% of those killed on the job, while those identified as black constituted 4% and those identified as Asian comprised 5%

Workplace Safety Problems Underreported

Workplace safety often is underreported according to a new UCLA labor study. The research found that while 75% of workers sought medical treatment for their injuries, only 8% filed a workers compensation claim. Reasons for not filing a claim included:

  • Workers were afraid of losing their jobs
  • Workers did not want to miss work
  • Employers reacted negatively when they learned about workers’ injuries
  • Employers did not provide workers’ compensation forms
  • Workplace Safety Report Features Mesothelioma Survivor

Workplace safety neglect resulted in the asbestos exposure of Kazan Law client Paul Zygielbaum. Paul was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal cancer of cells lining vital organs resulting from asbestos exposure. Miraculously, he has survived 12 years and is still going strong. Most mesothelioma patients usually live only for one to two years following diagnosis. Paul is using his time now as an activist advocating for workplace safety and fighting the industry that caused his disease. We are pleased that his story was featured in the new workplace safety report.

 

 

 

 

 

Kazan Law Mesothelioma Research Abstracts to be Presented at the 2014 International Mesothelioma Interest Group Conference

mesothelioma researchWorking as a mesothelioma attorney for as long as I have, I sometimes come up against mesothelioma research questions I can’t find answers to. Helping mesothelioma patients and their families is something you don’t stop thinking about when you go home in the evening. The plight of these people stays with you. And as important as legal justice is to helping them, medical research is important too.

Because we at Kazan Law are committed to mesothelioma research, we not only help support medical mesothelioma research – we also delve into mesothelioma research to try to find answers.

Several of the mesothelioma research areas we have been working on will be presented at a poster session at the upcoming International Mesothelioma Interest Group conference in Cape Town, South Africa later this month:

A Review of the (Scarce) Literature on Pericardial Malignant Mesothelioma

We generally think of mesothelioma as a disease affecting the lining of the lungs or abdomen. Pericardial mesothelioma develops in the thin membrane surrounding the heart, known as the pericardium. Because it is one of the rarest types of mesothelioma cancers, not as much is known about it. We needed to know more about it. With the help of our research librarian Faith Meltzer, we collected all of the pericardial malignant mesothelioma medical literature and analyzed the results.

Pericardial Mesothelioma: Accidental Treatment & Long-term Survival

This presentation explores an interesting case study of one of our clients. Ronald Nelson was born in 1970 and exposed to asbestos as a child. In 2005, he was diagnosed with pericardial mesothelioma. Surgery was performed on Mr. Nelson in 2007. He lived symptom-free until 2012 – unusual for any type of mesothelioma but especially for pericardial mesothelioma. Mr. Nelson filed suit in August 2012. The case was resolved before he died in 2013, securing the financial future of his family. Associate Ryan Harris worked on this case and poster presentation with me.

Hippocrates and BAP1 Genetic Testing in Mesothelioma Litigation

This presentation focuses on the ethics of performing genetic testing without the patient’s permission or knowledge and using the results against them in a court case. Specifically, we considered the Bap 1 oncosuppressor gene, meaning an inherited factor that makes someone’s immune system less able to fight off substances that can cause cancer. This unethical use of genetic testing is being used to “blame the victim” for carrying this gene for developing mesothelioma from asbestos exposure. Our associate Irena Kin worked on our study of this mesothelioma research question with me.

Asbestos Fibers – Silent Invisible Killers

asbestos fibersWhen it comes to protecting yourself and your loved ones from harm, asbestos fibers pose a challenging and very lethal threat.

If there’s a flame under a pot on the stove, you avoid putting your hand in that flame. If you are chopping vegetables with a sharp knife, you keep the sharp edge away from your fingers. When you are crossing a street, you wait for the walk sign and if a small child is with you, you hold their hand while you cross to protect them from possibly getting hit by a car.

But what do you do if there is a threat that you cannot see, feel, taste or smell? How do you protect yourself? How do you protect your family? You can’t. It’s impossible. That is the frightening truth about asbestos fibers.

Asbestos fibers can be 700 times smaller than a human hair, according to a Princeton University asbestos fact sheet. Some asbestos can be seen as dust but asbestos fibers can also be invisible to the human eye. You can’t see it. What’s more, it is odorless, tasteless and indestructible.

Asbestos fibers do not evaporate into air or dissolve in water, the US Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry reports. Small diameter fibers and particles may remain suspended in the air for a long time and be carried long distances by wind or water before settling down. Larger diameter fibers and particles tend to settle more quickly.

Asbestos fibers generally do not break down to other compounds and will remain virtually unchanged over long periods.

The Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the World Health Organization (WHO), and the EPA have determined that asbestos is a human carcinogen and there is no safe level of exposure. Yet asbestos remains legal in the United States, tragically impacting families. An estimated 10,000 Americans die every year from preventable asbestos-caused diseases. “Without adequate regulations, Americans cannot determine or manage consumer, environmental and occupational asbestos risk,” states the Environmental Working Group, an organization that monitors the safety of U.S. products.

If you can’t see or smell or taste asbestos, how do you know if it is in a product you are working with? You don’t. Only the people who put it there know. In many cases we have handled, product manufacturers and distributors knew of asbestos contamination and withheld that information with tragic results. Workers and their family members, who were contaminated by secondary asbestos exposure, have been diagnosed with fatal asbestos-caused diseases. Let us know if this has happened to you.

Outraged Scientists Protest Asbestos Industry Influence

asbestos industryHere at Kazan Law, we obtain justice for our clients who have been exposed to asbestos and have developed mesothelioma. Just last week we again were able to win a big verdict for clients against a big corporation called Pneumo Abex. We win against the asbestos industry because we are good at what we do and have decades of experience. But we are able to successfully argue our case and obtain justice because there are law recognizes the dangers that occur when corporation  knowingly expose people to asbestos. These legal rules are made based on scrupulous and thorough scientific research proving the link between asbestos exposure and the development of malignant mesothelioma and asbestosis.

But what if the asbestos industry was able to bribe scientists to publish research falsely claiming that asbestos did not cause harm?  And what if these false research articles denying the harmful effects of asbestos for corporate profit became the basis for weakening the laws against asbestos exposure and blocking criminal convictions against corporate offenders?  What if the asbestos industry could call the shots?

This is what seems to be what is happening in Europe.  You may think, oh Europe, that’s not the U.S. so who cares?  But we need to be vigilant and watch very carefully what happens there.  Because today more than ever, corporations are multinational entities.  So are scientific journals. Influential medical research articles published in Europe or other countries can become the basis for changes in medical issues here.

So it is with keen interest we note a letter of outraged protest against the asbestos industry from over 130 scientists, health advocates and organizations to the European Cancer Prevention Organization.  The letter charges that there are serious scientific and ethical improprieties in an article on asbestos published by the organization’s official scientific journal, the European Journal of Cancer Prevention .

The letter calls for the termination of Dr. Carlo La Vecchia as an associate editor of the journal and a member of the organization’s International Advisory Board. Dr. La Vecchia co-authored the article in question with Dr. Paolo Boffetta.  Both men co-own a consulting company that provides services for asbestos companies trying to beat criminal charges for causing the deaths of their employees from mesothelioma.

We are dismayed that pseudo-scientific stooges for asbestos interests have been able to get this far and hope for all of our sakes that this courageous letter is heeded.

Scientists Rejuvenate Immune System to Attack Mesothelioma

mesothelioma researchOne of the dangers of asbestos-related diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma, is that you may not know you’re sick until you develop symptoms. This process can take between 20 and 50 years, and by the time you notice problems, most treatment options are limited to palliative care.

The long latency periods of these diseases mean that many patients are advanced in age. Scientists think this may be a problem because the cells of the immune system behave differently as people age, and this may not be helpful in cases of cancer.

But what if scientists could somehow reverse the aging process of these immune cells? Researchers from Australia may have succeeded in doing that very thing.

How does the immune system work?
Your immune system is quite a powerful weapon, designed to protect your body from bacteria, fungi and viruses. These cells are also tasked to scavenge and clean up injured or damaged cells, including cancerous cells. Experts say that if the immune system turned against us, we wouldn’t stand a chance.

So how exactly does the immune system work? There are two main types of cells:

  • Phagocytes are cells that “eat” potentially harmful matter, such as pathogens and damaged cells. Granulocytes, dendritic cells and macrophages are all considered phagocytes. Macrophages in particular are known for eating larger matter
  • Lymphocytes are white blood cells that “learn” to recognize different types of harmful cells so they can attack them more effectively. They can identify viruses, bacteria and cancer cells. B-cells and T-cells are both considered varieties of lymphocytes.

The different parts of the immune system usually work together. For example, macrophages not only eat harmful matter, but they also put the other cells of the immune system on alert in case there’s some type of infection.

Researchers make old cells young
Researchers from Australia’s Curtin University theorize that cancer is particularly prevalent among older individuals because their macrophages become less active, and therefore cannot help the immune system kill off malignant cells. They say this may be especially true of mesothelioma and lung cancer.

This concept also led them to explore what would happen if they could make the macrophages of older individuals act like those of younger subjects. For their experiment, they looked at young and old mice, both groups of which were initially healthy. After the scientists exposed them to mesothelioma cells, they noticed the immune systems of the older mice were more sluggish to respond. However, after the researchers treated them with a certain drug, the macrophages of the older mice became active and helpful again.

Scientist Connie Jackaman had this to say to Science Network in Western Australia:

“Immune dysfunction is not permanent and in fact can be restored to function similarly to a young immune system. The public may be interested to know that as they get older it is not necessarily all downhill. The next step for our research group is to see if we can target macrophages in a live model and induce tumor regression in elderly immune systems.”

In the U.S., more than 7,300 individuals die every year because of malignant mesothelioma or asbestos-induced lung cancer. The long latency periods of asbestos-induced diseases mean that their incidence probably won’t peak for another 10 years or so. This is true for the U.S., the U.K. and Australia.

These trends are what motivate scientists in their search for a cure for asbestos-related diseases, and they’re what motivates us at Kazan Law to keep fighting for our clients.

Major asbestos litigation in both U.S. and UK

Asbestos settlements and lawsuits are two of the most common ways that victims who have been harmed by the exposure they endured to the carcinogenic material can gain compensation to help themselves and their families. Recently, there was some major asbestos litigation – both in the U.S. and in the UK – that could have a serious impact on those who have contracted asbestos-related diseases, such as malignant mesothelioma, asbestosis and lung cancer.

The town of Libby, Montana, was home to the W.R. Grace & Co./Zonolite Mining Co. vermiculite mine and during mining operations there, which didn’t end until 1990, a great deal of asbestos was brought to the surface, resulting in hundreds of people dying from diseases such as mesothelioma and asbestosis and around 1,500 others becoming sick from such illnesses, according to The Associated Press. The situation became so dire that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency declared the Libby area a health emergency in 2009. Continue reading

Settlement for Libby, Montana Victims?

Over 400 have died and thousands have become ill following decades of exposure to asbestos from the W.R. Grace vermiculite mine in Libby, Montana. The mine closed in 1999, and over $300 million has been spent on cleanup in recent years. Notices obtained by The Associated Press show at least 1,125 victims are considering a $43 million settlement that calls for payments ranging from $21,500 to $60,700, depending on the severity of their illness. Court approval is required before the settlement is final.

In 2004, the Montana Supreme Court said the state should have warned miners about hazards identified by state officials in Libby in the 1950s.

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