Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Family of Asbestosis Disease Victim Receives Two Sets of Awards

January 30, 2014

Alameda, CA While many an asbestosis lawsuit has centered on industries such as shipbuilding and the renovations industry, where asbestos was at one time a popular choice for insulation, asbestos remains an important component associated with automotive brakes. A recent asbestosis claim highlights the risks associated with improperly handling the material that goes into the manufacture of automotive brake linings.

An asbestosis lawsuit recently concluded has resulted in a second round of compensation to the family of Gordon Bankhead, identified as the victim in the case. According to Bankhead’s asbestosis lawyer, Gordon worked as a parts man from 1965 through 1999, servicing and repairing heavy duty vehicles. A large component of his daily activities included handling and servicing brakes, which contained asbestos.

Activities including, but not limited to, inspection, handling, replacement and grinding, together with a process described as the “blowing-out” of brakes that contained asbestos, combined to cause Bankhead to inhale asbestos dust.

Asbestos is a known carcinogen which, when inhaled, can lay dormant within the body for decades before finally emerging as asbestosis, asbestos disease or mesothelioma - all of which can be deadly. There is no known cure. Bankhead, according to the lawsuit, succumbed to mesothelioma at the age of 68.

An asbestosis lawsuit was filed June 1, 2012, at Alameda County Superior Court. Defendant Pneumo Abex LLC, the manufacturer of the brakes Bankhead handled and which allegedly contributed to his asbestosis disease, was found by a jury to be liable at 30 percent. Pneumo Abex was the only defendant to go to trial, given that other defendants settled prior to the trial commencing.

From the initial trial, Bankhead was awarded $1,470,000 for past and future economic loss, together with $1.5 million for pain and suffering. Emily Bankhead, the plaintiff’s wife, was awarded $1 million in compensation for the loss of her husband’s support and companionship. The punitive damages award was worth $9 million. Pneumo Abex appealed the verdict, but it was upheld when the appellate court agreed with the original findings.

But that’s not the end of it. When Bankhead died, at age 68, his family sought additional compensation for Bankhead’s early death, calculated at 17 years prior to his normal life expectancy. According to the asbestosis attorney involved, the second trial commenced January 13 of this year and concluded swiftly with a verdict and award two days later.

Unlike the first trial that saw the jury brought up to speed on the background and details of Bankhead’s disease and the activity that was alleged to have caused it - including the part Pneumo Abex was alleged to have played in the matter - the second jury was not informed as to the circumstances surrounding Bankhead’s death or the reasons for the defendant’s liability, which remained at 30 percent. However, Pneumo Abex was not allowed to dispute its liability.

The sole point of the subsequent trial was to arrive at a level of asbestosis compensation for Bankhead’s widow and adult children, given his premature death. The plaintiffs did not seek reimbursement for funeral expenses or other economic damages beyond their claims of loss due to Bankhead’s early demise.

The defendant, while not disputing liability, sought only a reduced award for adult children, whom the defendant thought should get a lesser amount than that awarded to the deceased man’s wife.

In the end, Bankhead’s widow Emily was awarded $6 million in her subsequent asbestosis claim, with Tammy Bankhead and Debbie Bankhead-Meiers awarded $2.5 million each - bringing the total gross award to $11 million. However, given the defendant’s prior liability finding at 30 percent, the gross award was reduced to net $3.3 million.

In August the plaintiffs in their asbestosis claim had asked for $2 million in compensation for Emily Bankhead and $500,000 each for the two adult children. The case is Emily Bankhead, Tammy Bankhead, and Debbie Bankhead-Meiers v. ArvinMeritor, Inc., et al., Case No. RG12632899, Alameda County Superior Court.