Calif. Jury Awards $48M In Union Carbide Asbestos Case
By: Jonathan Randles | Law360, Los Angeles (June 21, 2012, 6:44 PM ET) — A California state jury has awarded $48 million to the family of a mesothelioma patient after finding Union Carbide Corp. concealed asbestos cancer risks from consumers, attorneys said Thursday.
The verdict, which includes $18 million in punitive damages, is the largest asbestos-related verdict in the United States so far this year. Bobbie Izell, 86, of Hackett, Ark., claimed he was exposed to asbestos dust while working as a contractor in Los Angeles.
Izell and his wife, Helen, both testified during the six-week trial, Izell’s attorney John Langdoc of Baron & Budd PC said. The jury awarded the couple $30 million in non-economic damages on June 14. The Los Angeles panel returned an $18 million punitive damages award against Union Carbide on Tuesday.
Union Carbide, a subsidiary of The Dow Chemical Company, said in a statement that the verdict is "outrageous and unsupported by the facts or applicable law." The company said it has "strong grounds" for an appeal and believes the verdict will be set aside.
"While the jury was likely swayed by sympathy for Mr. Izell and his wife, the credible evidence introduced at trial clearly demonstrates that asbestos from Union Carbide did not cause Mr. Izell’s disease," Scot Wheeler a Dow spokesman said in a statement.
A Union Carbide internal memo from 1967 that was uncovered during the litigation revealed that the company knew asbestos caused cancer, even after brief exposures, Langdoc said. But the company didn’t disclose the health risk because it would be detrimental to the sale of the company’s building supplies, he said.
"It was surprising, even for us, just how significant the cover up was," Langdoc said. "Their medical department, marketing department and legal department knew that if they used the word cancer on their products, it would have an effect on their sales. It was everything from the movies you think might happen."
Bobbie and Helen Izell filed the lawsuit in Los Angeles Superior court in September, months after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. The case went to trial against five corporate defendants, including Union Carbide, Riverside Cement, CalPortland and Kaiser Gypsum Co. Inc.
Kaiser Gypsum has filed a motion for a mistrial, arguing that the damages are excessive. The company noted in its motion that Izell has declined chemotherapy and is not a candidate for surgery.
Izell worked as a cement contractor in the 1950s and worked as a general contractor building small houses in the Los Angeles area until he retired in 1994. Izell didn’t work with asbestos directly and instead was exposed to asbestos dust while inspecting the homes he worked on, Langdoc said.
Because his exposure to asbestos was relatively low, it took longer for the cancer to develop, he said.
The punitive damages award penalized Union Carbide $1 million for each year the company continued to supply asbestos following the release of the 1967 memo, Langdoc said.
Union Carbide is represented by William J. Sayers, Farah S. Nicol and Ryan S. Landis of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP and Kevin M. Jordan of Baker Botts LLP
Izell is represented by John Langdoc and Christine Tamer of Baron & Budd, P.C.
The case is Bobbie Izell et al. v. Asbestos companies et al., case number BC469931, in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles.
–Editing by Richard McVay.