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Pneumo Abex

Landmark Appellate Victory In Favor of Victims of Take Home Asbestos Exposure

take home asbestos exposureIn a landmark victory decision that may offer hope for justice to all victims of take home asbestos exposure, a California court of appeal has ruled that a case of take home asbestos exposure that had been dismissed now can be reinstated and move forward to trial.

Kazan Law is pleased to announce that the court of appeal reversed a lower court’s ruling that would have dismissed a take home asbestos case against Pneumo Abex, a manufacturer of asbestos brakes, brought by Johnny Kesner, who was exposed to asbestos dust brought home from the Abex plant by his uncle, an employee there.  (Kesner v. Pneumo Abex, LLC (May 15, 2014) First Dist., Div. 3, Nos. A136378 and A136416).

Kazan Law of-counsel attorney Ted W. Pelletier joined trial counsel from the firm Weitz & Luxenberg to successfully argue the case before the Court of Appeal.

The appeal court decision is of special significance because it is the first one to limit a previous court decision that prevented the owner of a piece of property from being held liable for harmful take home asbestos exposures that resulted from the work done on the property.

That decision, Campbell v. Ford Motor Co. (2012) 206 Cal.App.4th 15, was issued in November 2012. It determined that Ford was not responsible for asbestos exposure to family members brought home on the clothes of workers installing asbestos-containing insulation while constructing a new Ford factory on the property. The workers were employed by the contractor hired to build the factory not by Ford itself.

Since then, companies successfully argued that this decision applies to them even though they do not merely own the premises but also actually cause asbestos exposure by manufacturing asbestos products or performing the work that released the asbestos dust.  Many trial courts, lacking further guidance, have applied the Campbell decision to these cases, depriving asbestos exposure victims of the right to pursue their claims against those responsible.

Kazan Law just helped change that. We helped convince the court that Pneumo Abex, who both owned the land and used it to manufacture asbestos-containing brake products, knowingly exposed its employee George Kesner, Johnny Kesner’s uncle, to asbestos dust that he regularly brought home on his clothes.

In a significant step, the appeal court will publish this decision thus making it binding throughout the state. This published decision will provide much-needed guidance to the trial courts in cases involving a defendant who actively created the asbestos exposure hazard that caused injury and who also happened to own the premises where it happened.

Pneumo Abex Corporation – A History of Asbestos Death and Disease

Pneumo AbexWhen I tell people that I am an attorney who seeks justice for those who have been exposed to asbestos, some people react with surprise. “Exposed to asbestos?” they ask.  “Does that still happen?  Is anyone exposed to asbestos anymore?”

Sadly yes. Thousands of people have been exposed to asbestos in the decades since it has become common knowledge about the fatal damage that being exposed to asbestos causes to the lungs. People are being exposed to asbestos right now.  I wish this wasn’t true.

But there are two types of people in this world.  There are people who try to do well by doing good. And unfortunately there are people who will do anything for money. Even if it gets innocent people killed. And that is how people get exposed to asbestos.

Consider the Pneumo Abex Corporation.  Founded in 1928 in Portsmouth, Virginia as the American Brake Shoe and Foundry, Pneumo Abex produced asbestos-containing products until 1987.

Gordon Bankhead worked with Pneumo Abex brake linings from 1965 to 1999 servicing and repairing vehicles at an Oakland, CA shipping company. He helped inspect, replace and grind asbestos-containing brakes. In doing this, he breathed deadly asbestos dust. He died from mesothelioma in 2011 at age 68.

An Alameda County, California jury returned an $11 million verdict in an asbestos wrongful death suit (Emily Bankhead, Tammy Bankhead, and Debbie Bankhead Meiers v. ArvinMeritor, Inc., et al., Alameda County Superior Court Case No. RG12632899) against Pneumo Abex LLC on January 15, 2014. Kazan Law partner David McClain represented the Bankhead family. This follows a January 2011 verdict assessing punitive damages against Phuemo Abex LLC of $9 million along with compensatory damages for Mr. Bankhead’s pain and suffering and for his wife Emily’s suffering as she watched his disease progress and take his life.

Evidence our firm brought forward in the Bankhead case and an earlier case (Robert Frank Smith and Mary Lou Smith v. Pneumo Abex LLC, Los Angeles County Superior Court No. BC396072) proved that Pneumo Abex knew of the deadly health effects of breathing asbestos dust since at least the 1940s, but that Pneumo Abex did not begin warning  customers of those effects until years after their customers’ employees like Mr. Bankhead and Mr. Smith were exposed to the asbestos-containing brakes it made and sold. In fact, Pneumo Abex was involved in medical studies on the health effects of asbestos during the 1930s and 1940s and its medical director was a frequent speaker on asbestos health hazards during the 1940s.

The company knew by then that asbestos killed. By the 1950s they knew it caused lung cancer and by 1963 they knew it caused mesothelioma. Despite its knowledge of the hazards of asbestos, Pneumo Abex continued to sell asbestos-containing brakes until 1987 without warning its victims of the dangers of asbestos or the risk of fatal cancer.

Appellate Judge Upholds $13.5 Million Award in Asbestos Case

In separate decisions, a California appeals court recently affirmed  punitive-damages awards totaling $ 13.5 million  that the jury returned in a Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood asbestos case  against ArvinMeritor, Inc. and Pneumo Abex, LLC, describing ArvinMeritor’s conduct as “highly reprehensible”  and concluding ample evidence supported Pneumo Abex’s ability to pay its portion of the award.

Writing for the First Appellate District, Justice Ignazio Ruvolo wrote on April 19 that ArvinMeritor, the successor to brake shoe manufacturer Rockwell, knowingly exposed workers to asbestos without placing warnings on its products for years.

“By the 1960s, ArvinMeritor knew that workers exposed to asbestos dust were at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases,” Ruvolo wrote. “Indeed, in 1973 and again in 1975, it wrote letters to (Pneumo Abex) and other manufacturers complaining about the presence of asbestos dust in the brake linings it was receiving from them. Nonetheless, ArvinMeritor did not place any warnings on its products until the early 1980s, and continued to market asbestos-containing brakes until its inventory of them was exhausted sometime in the early 1990s.”

On April 26, the same appellate court concluded that the evidence adduced at trial — including that Pneumo Abex obtained $207 million upon the sale of its asbestos-containing brake-lining business in 1994 — fully supported the $9.5 million award the jury assessed against Pneumo Abex.

Couple wins fight for compensation

Gordon Bankhead, who worked as a parts man repairing heavy duty vehicles between 1965 and 1999, regularly handled  and worked in proximity to brakes  that contained asbestos , which led him to inhale the carcinogenic mineral fibers.

Mr. Bankhead spent the majority of his career with Sea-Land Shipping Company, which purchased brake shoes from ArvinMeritor predecessor Rockwell  and other suppliers that contained asbestos-containing linings manufactured by Pheumo Abex.  Mr. Bankhead  was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma in January 2010 .

We  represented Mr. and Mrs. Bankhead in a trial that began on October 25, 2010.  The evidence indicated that the companies involved were aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure for a number of years, but Rockwell did not stop selling asbestos brakes until 2000.

Gordon Bankhead, who died last October as a result of  his mesothelioma, and his wife Emily were  awarded $ 13.5 million in punitive damages and  nearly $ 4 million in compensatory damages.

Award highlights the deadly risks of asbestos

The compensation award to the Bankheads following their legal battle represents the latest instance of companies being held liable for their actions that contributed to the diagnoses of serious illnesses.

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