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$17,470,000 Two-Phase Verdict for Heavy Duty Vehicle Parts Man

An Alameda County, California jury found that manufacturers Pneumo Abex, Arvin Meritor, and Carlisle Corporation defectively designed their brakes, failed to adequately warn consumers and customers of the dangers the brakes posed, were negligent, and intentionally concealed information that could have prevented harm, and acted with malice, fraud and oppression, warranting a second phase determination. (Gordon and Emily Bankhead v. Allied Packing & Supply, Inc., et al, Alameda County Superior Court No. RG10502243)

On January 6, 2011 an Alameda County jury returned a $13.5 million dollar second phase verdict assessing punitive damages against Phuemo Abex LLC (9 million dollars) and Arvin Meritor/Rockwell (4.5 million dollars). In the first phase of the trial, completed on December 22, 2010, the jury awarded 3.9 million dollars in compensatory damages, and found that the defendants, Pneumo Abex, Arvin Meritor, and co-defendant Carlisle Corporation (which resolved before Phase 2), acted with malice, fraud and oppression, warranting the second phase determination.

Gordon Bankhead, age 66, worked from 1965 to 1999 in the service and repair of heavy duty vehicles as a Parts Man. He spent most of his career at Sea-Land Shipping Company in Oakland, California. He regularly handled asbestos-containing brakes, and was present for the inspection, replacement, grinding, and blowing out of asbestos-containing brakes. All of these activities caused him to breathe deadly asbestos dust. Abex and Carlisle manufactured the vast majority of the brake linings Mr. Bankhead was exposed to, which in turn Rockwell and Fruehauf attached to brake shoes and axles that were sold to Mr. Bankhead’s employers. Gordon Bankhead was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2010.

Kazan Law filed suit on behalf of Mr. and Mrs. Bankhead in March 2010. Trial commenced on October 25, 2010. Evidence at trial showed that Pneumo Abex had been aware of the deadly health effects of breathing asbestos dust since at least the 1940s, but that Pneumo Abex did not begin warning its customers of those effects, if at all, until years after Mr. Bankhead was exposed to the asbestos-containing brakes it made and sold. Abex and Carlisle were involved in discussions within the Friction Materials Standards Institute in the 1970s about whether to warn about the health hazards from its brakes. Rockwell knew starting in the early 1970s that its employees were exposed to dust from Abex and Carlisle brakes, but did nothing to warn its customers of the same hazards. As early as 1977, Rockwell learned that one of its employees who handled brakes was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Despite their knowledge of the hazards of asbestos, Carlisle and Pneumo Abex continued to sell asbestos-containing brakes until 1987; Rockwell did not cease selling asbestos brakes until 2000.

The jury found that all defendants defectively designed their brakes, failed to adequately warn consumers and customers of the dangers the brakes posed, were negligent, and intentionally concealed information that could have prevented the harm Mr. Bankhead suffered, all of which contributed to causing Mr. Bankhead’s mesothelioma. The jury apportioned 30% liability each to Carlisle and Pneumo Abex, 15% each to ArvinMeritor and Kelsey-Hayes, and 10% to Mr. Bankhead’s employers. The jury awarded Mr. Bankhead $1,470,000 for his past and future economic loss, and $1,500,000 for his pain and suffering. The jury also awarded his wife, Emily Bankhead $1,000,000 for her loss of her husband’s support and companionship. The jury found that defendants’ actions were malicious, fraudulent, and/or oppressive.

Mr. and Mrs. Bankhead were represented at trial by Kazan Law partners Joseph Satterley and Justin Bosl, and former partner Leigh Kirmsse.

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