A Los Angeles jury today returned a verdict against General Motors for
poisoning Erwin Bergquist, a 74 year-old floor tile executive living with
his wife of 52 years, Janelle, in Oxnard, California. Mr. Bergquist was
diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma in March of 2006.
"We had a good case and my lawyers did a heck of a job on it, and
I'm very, very happy with the outcome," said Mr. Bergquist, who
served in the US Navy from 1950 to 1954, where he was exposed below deck
to asbestos-insulated diesel engines made by General Motors.
The other defendants in the case settled their claims out of court, leaving
General Motors as the sole defendant. The jury found that of the $2.8
million in damages, GM was responsible for 65% of the injury caused to
Mr. Bergquist. "GM's arrogance before and during the trial was
amazing, and the jury saw through it. They sent a powerful message that
GM can't put profit first at the expense of Erwin Bergquist's
life," said co-counsel David Greenstone, who tried the case.
"This was an incredibly strong verdict," agreed co-counsel Roger
Worthington. "It's plain that by saddling GM with 65% of the
fault, the jury didn't simply attempt to quantify the cumulative amount
of asbestos fibers Mr. Bergquist inhaled over his lifetime. They focused
on his exposure and GM's egregious conduct. Importantly, the jury
found that GM should have known about the dangers of their asbestos insulated
engines in the early 1950's."
Added Mr. Greenstone: "GM was forced to admit for the first time in
open court that their own workers had suffered from asbestosis as a result
of exposure to asbestos used on and inside GM products. Today's verdict
shows just how deplorable GM's behavior was."
"I worked my whole career in the flooring business. I served my country
and I never sued anybody, ever," said Mr. Bergquist. "But if
these companies did something that's going to take ten years off my
life, and they knew about it, then they should have to pay."
Mr. Bergquist was exposed to asbestos in the US Navy from 1951 to 1954
and during his career in floor covering from 1954 until 1993. In the navy
he made repairs to equipment in the engine room and often had to remove
asbestos insulation as well as removing and replacing asbestos gaskets
on valve and pump flanges. The ship's diesel engines, manufactured
by General Motors, were insulated with asbestos and were a source of airborne
asbestos fibers during repairs.
Regarding his work on GM engines while in the U.S. Navy, Mr. Bergquist
said, "GM brought in some expert who claimed that the GM engines
weren't on my ship. We not only had three guys who testified that
they were in there, I even had photos of the engines. The jury knew who
Mr. Bergquist was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma in March,
2006, and had the pleurectomy / decortication surgical procedure with
Dr. Robert Cameron in June, 2006. Dr. Cameron is the director of the mesothelioma
program at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA. "Dr. Cameron
and his staff are just great. The [pleurectomy / decortication] surgery
with Dr. Cameron gave me extra time," said Mr. Bergquist. "He's
a tremendous surgeon, but more than that, he's a very compassionate
man. We intend to make a donation to thePacific Heart, Lung & Blood
Institute so Dr. Cameron can continue his research on mesothelioma."
Since the life-extending surgery, Mr. Bergquist cheerfully talks about
"planning a trip to Africa with one of my grandsons." Almost
a year and a half after the surgery, Mr. Bergquist plans to keep fighting
his asbestos cancer with Dr. Cameron's multi-modal therapy and spend
time with his family. Prior to the verdict, Mr. Bergquist had reached
settlements with other defendants totaling $2.1 million.