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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.


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