Widow Wins $11.5M Verdict in Asbestos Case


ByHeather Cole July 6, 2015

UPDATED

Plaintiff’s attorneys won an $11.5 million verdict in St. Louis Circuit Court late last week for the widow of a man allegedly exposed to asbestos while working on a U.S. Navy ship in the 1950s.

The jury awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $10 million in punitive damages to Jeanette Poage, whose husband, James, died in 2013 from mesothelioma, a cancer that affects lungs’ lining.

The jury returned the compensatory damages verdict at 6:30 p.m. Thursday after a six-day trial, and came back with the punitive damages at 8:15 p.m., according to online court records.

James Poage served in the Navy aboard destroyer the USS Haynsworth from 1954 to 1958, said plaintiff’s attorney Ben Schmickle of SWMK Law in St. Louis.

Jeanette Poage alleged that routine repair work Poage did on gaskets and valves with asbestos packing from Connecticut-based Crane Co. exposed him to the asbestos that caused his later mesothelioma.

“There was a mountain of evidence in front of the jury that as of the time our client’s husband got on his Navy ship [Crane] was indisputably aware of the dangers of the materials it was putting in its valves,” said plaintiff’s attorney Fletch Trammell.

Exposure to asbestos insulation on the ship, not the gaskets and packing for valves, is what caused Poage’s mesothelioma, said Terry Budd, national trial counsel for Crane. The gaskets and valve packing that Poage “might have worked on” weren’t made by Crane in any case, Budd said.

Crane was found liable “for products it had nothing to do with,” said Budd, a Pittsburgh-based K&L Gates partner.

“Crane Co. is and looks forward to appealing the verdict,” Budd said.

Plaintiff’s experts testified that each and every exposure to asbestos over a “background level” contributes to mesothelioma, Schmickle said.

“Essentially you’re filling up a glass and every drop is going to count to making the glass of water spill over,” Schmickle said.

Jeanette Poage, who was married to her husband for 53 years, “was deeply moved by the verdict,” Trammell said in an email.

The lawsuit initially was filed against dozens of defendants, but other defendants settled and Crane was the only one remaining in the case when the trial started.

Trammell of Trammell Law and Rob Cowan from Bailey Peavey Bailey were lead plaintiff’s attorneys. Both their firms are based in Houston. Rebecca Nickelson of HeplerBroom in St. Louis and Michael Schalk of the Pittsburgh office of K&L Gates were the lead defense attorneys at trial.

The case is Jeanette Poage v. Crane Co., 1322-CC00059.