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$5M Awarded to Retired Contractor Exposed to Asbestos from Drywall Products

The asbestos attorneys of Worthington & Caron, P.C. are pleased to report that on February 16, 2022, a Santa Monica Jury awarded $5 million to our clients in a case entitled Brooks vs. Kaiser Gypsum Company, Inc., et al. (LASC Case No. 19STCV34068).

Justice delayed but not denied by COVID-19

The verdict is the culmination of a hard-fought battle complicated at many turns by the COVID-19 pandemic. Trial was initially scheduled for October 2021 but continued many times due to pandemic-related court closures and other grounds. Even after the parties finally appeared for trial on November 19, 2021, emergence of the Omicron Variant caused jury selection to last over 30 days.

It wasn’t until January 20, 2022, that trial began with opening statements. By that time, due to settlements reached with most of the 18 defendants named in the case, only two defendants remained, Kaiser Gypsum Company and Mission Stucco Company.

Unfortunately, as the final trial delays were occurring, Mr. Brooks, suffering from end stage sarcomatoid/epithelial mesothelioma, experienced a marked decline in his condition which prevented him from testifying.

On February 16, the jury returned a verdict for Mr. Brooks and his wife finding that asbestos in drywall products made by the Kaiser Gypsum Company caused Mr. Brooks’ mesothelioma cancer. The jury awarded $5 million in damages.

We join trial attorney Scott Frost of the Frost Law Firm in thanking the jurors for bravely fulfilling their civic duty under these unprecedented circumstances. We understand it is the only civil jury trial in Los Angeles County to proceed to verdict during this time when courts in surrounding counties closed or suspended trials altogether.

“California Dream” Leads to Nightmare Mesothelioma Diagnosis

Mr. Brooks grew up enduring the cold winters of northern Massachusetts. A young man in his early 20s in the late 1960s, he dreamt of California beaches, endless summers, and being part of the burgeoning California music scene. Mr. Brooks and three of his friends made the dream a reality when they crammed into a Ford Mustang and drove cross country to Los Angeles in January 1969. In no time, Mr. Brooks was surfing, going to concerts, and enjoying his version of the California Dream.

To fund his dream, Mr. Brooks worked project-based jobs in construction which were readily available given California’s meteoric growth coupled with the aftermath of the 1971 Sylmar earthquake. He worked on crews installing drywall, stucco, roofing, and decking throughout Hollywood and the San Fernando Valley.

Little did he know that while working with materials including joint compound and stucco, he was inhaling asbestos fibers that would remain in his chest as a “ticking time bomb” and detonate decades later in the form of mesothelioma cancer.

After three years in California, Mr. Brooks returned to the east coast, had a son, graduated from college, and became a general contractor. In the late 1980s he met his wife and moved to Hawaii where they enjoyed an active mix of travel and work in real estate and resort management for nearly 30 years. In 2017, they moved to Florida where they could slow down and have easy access to European and Caribbean travel. Life was good.

Things took a dramatic turn in the summer of 2019, when the normally energetic Mr. Brooks experienced severe shortness of breath while jogging. Weeks later he learned he had mesothelioma; an incurable cancer caused by asbestos.

Back to California for Treatment

Determined to beat his illness, Mr. Brooks traveled to top treatment centers across the country including Tampa, Boston, Houston, and Los Angeles. He chose Dr. Robert Cameron and his team at UCLA to quarterback his treatment. Over the next two years, he underwent chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and an innovative cryoablation procedure performed by Dr. Fereidoun Abtin at UCLA.

The treatments succeeded in extending Mr. Brooks’ life, but as trial began in January 2022, his pain and shortness of breath worsened to the point he could not participate.

However, through Mr. Brooks’ earlier videotaped testimony and other witnesses called to testify on his behalf, the jury learned how the seemingly harmless drywall mud he and millions of others used in the 1960s and 70s caused the dreadful cancer he continues to fight.

Hoping the Verdict Sends a Message that Will Help Others

Mr. Brooks hopes the jury’s verdict will serve as a stark reminder that asbestos in products commonly used in the 1960s and 70s continues to wreak havoc on the lives of countless Americans.

Indeed, companies which profited handsomely on asbestos products, like Kaiser Gypsum, would have us believe that asbestos cancer is a thing of the past. This makes it easier for them to use increasingly creative tactics through bankruptcy laws and otherwise to evade responsibility for the damage they have caused. Verdicts like this are a reminder to the public and elected officials that asbestos cancer caused by corporate malfeasance will be with us for decades to come.

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