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$4,055,000 Verdict for Automobile Serviceman

A Los Angeles jury found brake manufacturer Pneumo Abex had been aware of the deadly health effects of breathing asbestos dust, but did not begin warning its customers of those effects until decades later. (Robert Frank Smith and Mary Lou Smith v. Pneumo Abex LLC, Los Angeles County Superior Court Docket No. BC396072)

On March 25, 2009, a Los Angeles jury returned a verdict of $4,055,000 against Pneumo Abex LLC for Robert and Mary Lou Smith.

Robert Smith, age 65, worked from 1968 to 1971 as an automobile serviceman for Southern California Edison in Long Beach, California. He and his fellow workers regularly inspected, removed, and replaced asbestos-containing brakes on the Southern California Edison’s fleet of vehicles, causing him to breathe deadly asbestos dust. Pneumo Abex LLC manufactured many of these brakes, which Edison purchased from a local NAPA store. Mr. Smith was also exposed to asbestos while working as a truck driver from 1971 to the early 1980s hauling used brake shoes to and from a Sears, Roebuck & Co. facility.

Robert Smith was diagnosed with mesothelioma. Kazan Law filed suit on behalf of Mr.and Mrs. Smith in June 2008. 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 until years after Mr. Smith was exposed to the asbestos-containing brakes it made and sold. Indeed, Pneumo Abex was involved in medical studies regarding the health effects of asbestos at Saranac Laboratory in New York during the 1930s and 1940s and its Medical Director was a frequent speaker on asbestos health hazards during the 1940s. Despite its knowledge of the hazards of asbestos, Pneumo Abex continued to sell asbestos-containing brakes until 1987. The jury found that Pneumo Abex defectively designed its brakes, failed to adequately warn consumers and customers of the dangers its brakes posed, and was negligent, all of which contributed to causing Mr. Smith’s mesothelioma. The jury did not apportion liability to Sears. The jury awarded Mr. Smith $900,000 for his past and future medical expenses, $480,000 for his lost income and household services, and $2,500,000 for his pain and suffering. The jury also awarded Mary Lou Smith, his wife of over 44 years, $175,000 for her loss of her husband’s support and companionship.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith were represented at trial by the late Kazan Law principal Phillip Harley, partner Justin Bosl and associate Matthew Thiel.

On September 17, 2010, the Court of Appeal affirmed the verdict because there was substantial evidence Robert Smith inhaled asbestos from Pneumo Abex’s brakes, which contributed to Mr. Smith’s mesothelioma. The Court of Appeal also affirmed the cancer-causation legal standard used at trial; and affirmed Mr. and Mrs. Smith’s right to collect their lawsuit costs and medical expenses. On December 1, 2010, the California Supreme Court denied Pneumo Abex’s request for review of the case. Mr Smith died during the appeal and his family’s case against Abex will go to trial this November. The only issue will be the amount of damages since Abex is bound by the first jury’s finding that it was at fault and caused his fatal mesothelioma.

Mr. and Mrs. Smith were represented on appeal by Kazan Law partner James L. Oberman and associate Michael T. Stewart.

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