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$5,437,882 Verdict for Leadership Trainer

An Oakland, California jury found Crane Co, a manufacturer of industrial products, liable for a man’s mesothelioma after hearing evidence showing that Crane Co corporate officers knew or should have known as early as the 1930s that asbestos causes diseases that kill. (Hellam v. Crane Co., Nos. A138013 and A139141, 2014 WL 1492725 Cal. Ct. App., 1st Dist. Apr. 16, 2014)

On Kazan Law client Jim Hellam’s 66th birthday, November 28, 2012, an Oakland, California jury returned a $5,437,882 verdict in his case against Crane Co. Mr. Hellam was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2011.

As a teenager, Mr. Hellam worked for his grandfather’s one man operation, Monterey Boiler Service, over the course of five summers between 1962 and 1966. His grandfather bought Cranite gaskets and a dry powdered cement product from Crane Co’s “Crane Supply” wholesale outlet in Salinas, California. Mr. Hellam was exposed to asbestos when he mixed the powered material with water to form a slurry used in the process of refurbishing boilers, and from cutting sheet gasket material to form gaskets used in the refurbishing process.

Mr. Hellam had no asbestos exposure during the rest of his career. He was a San Jose police officer for 13 years, followed by 31 years as a life coach who traveled the globe giving leadership training lectures, a career that began through recruitment by a firm and led to the development of his own business.

Crane Co denied responsibility for exposing Mr. Hellam to asbestos and asserted at trial that the company was unaware of asbestos related health hazards until the 1970s. Kazan Law presented evidence showing that Crane Co corporate officers knew or should have known as early as the 1930s that asbestos causes diseases that kill. The case was tried by Kazan Law partners, Dianna Lyons and Frank Fernandez, and associate Mark Swanson.

Crane Co. appealed the jury decision yet 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. The court agreed that the jury rightly attributed Crane’s products being a cause of Hellam’s malignant mesothelioma.

In April 2014, the appeals court affirmed the trial court’s award of over $85,000 in litigation costs to Hellam and the following compensation for damages:

  • Economic damages = $937,882.56
  • Non-economic damages = $4,500,000.00
  • Total = $5,437,882.56

Kazan Law attorneys Ted Pelletier and Ian Rivamonte led the successful appeal.

On August 20, 2015, the California Court of Appeal, First District, thwarted Crane Co’s latest attempt of reducing the significant economic-damages judgment entered against it. The court rejected Crane Co.’s proposed method of applying settlement credits, which the court characterized as “completely at odds” with California law.  If the appellate court had sided with Crane Co., Kazan Law client James Hellam’s $937,882.56 economic-damages judgment would have been significantly reduced, if not completely erased.

Hellam thus affirms California’s long-standing method for allocating pre-verdict settlement proceeds to determine the defendant’s set-off for economic damages.  This decision has a broader impact to plaintiffs, especially those involved in multi-defendant tort actions, because it preserves “several public policies strongly reflected in the law,” including encouraging settlement and maximizing the injured plaintiff’s recovery from the at-fault parties

Kazan Law of counsel Ted Pelletier and associate Ian Rivamonte successfully handled the second appeal.

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