Rafe Ledford, a veteran from Washington State who served in the navy as
a machinist from 1958 to 1962, was awarded $1.1 million in damages by
a Los Angeles, California jury on November 6. The jury found that Ledford,
who at age 69 has malignant mesothelioma, was poisoned while doing repairs
on diesel engines in navy ships manufactured by General Motors. Prior
to the verdict, GM had offered $10,000 to settle the claim.
"Navy veterans, sheetmetal workers, and auto mechanics need to know
that when they've been poisoned by asbestos, and years later develop
cancer, they have a remedy," said attorney Roger Worthington. "Companies
like GM believe they can poison hard-working Americans, dangle a few thousand
dollars while denying all blame, and walk away leaving their victim to
struggle with a painful, terminal disease. Tuesday's jury stood up
to GM's shenanigans and said 'No, you can't.'"
Chris Panatier, an attorney with Simon, Eddins & Greenstone who tried
the case, said "The family is very appreciative of the time and energy
put into this case by the jury. They feel some closure as a result of
the verdict." The jury also concluded that GM's diesel engines
and their asbestos-containing gaskets were responsible for almost one-third
of the victim's injuries. "Companies routinely come into courtrooms
in these cases and attempt to mislead juries. They tell them that certain
types of asbestos are safe-an utter and complete fabrication devoid of
any scientific foundation," Panatier said.
In addition to working as a mechanic and serving in the navy, Mr. Ledford
did sheetmetal work at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 1962 to 1993
and was exposed to large amounts of asbestos dust during overhauls, conversions,
and new construction of ships. Prior the verdict, Mr. and Mrs. Ledford
reached settlements totaling $3.3 million.
The case was filed in October, 2006 and resolved by jury in less than one year.
Mr. Ledford was exposed to asbestos as a machine repairman in the navy
working on boilers, valves, pumps, turbines, engines and other equipment
aboard ship. During work at shipyards in Long Beach and Puget Sound, he
machined, repaired, and replaced equipment and parts for destroyers, as
well as new construction, conversion, and overhaul of submarines and aircraft
carriers. His work included removal of all the lagging that encased boilers,
bulkheads, valves, and turbines, removal of insulated sheet metal, repair,
and re-installation. This work was done alongside laggers, pipefitters,
machinists, and welders, who were themselves working with asbestos, and
whose activities below deck created a dense, dusty, choking environment
of airborne asbestos.
"Each and every exposure to asbestos contributes to the development
of mesothelioma," said Worthington. "Mr. Ledford worked below
deck on naval ships for
thirty years. He testified that he worked on gaskets in and around GM diesel engines
a total of
25 times. The jury looked at all the evidence and saddled GM with 27% of the fault.
Twenty-five exposures may not seem like much, but the jury understood
how lethal asbestos is, and how each fiber inhaled can cause mesothelioma."