By Gregory C. Baumann
Daily Records Opinions Editor


  April 17, 1997   A Baltimore jury yesterday awarded a 41-year old ex-Navy seaman more than $16 million on his claim that asbestos exposure on the U.S.S. Nimitz aircraft carrier caused his lung cancer.
   Attorneys for both sides in the case said it was the first verdict for a plaintiff who was exposed to the deadly mineral after manufacturers stopped selling products containing asbestos.
   "It is a message to all of the asbestos manufacturers that they cannot plan on defending cases of persons injured by exposure after the cessation of manufacturing by saying it's all someone else's fault," said Shepard A. Hoffman, lawyer for winning plaintiff James R. Hammond.
   The $16,286,000 award against Owens-Corning Fiberglass came after roughly one hour of deliberation. At trial, the six jurors heard of Hammond's operations and chemotherapy, aimed at slowing the mesothelioma that doctors say will eventually kill him.    Hoffman attributed the large verdict -- which he said posts a new high for an individual asbestos plaintiff -- to the dreadful nature of the disease's progress, his client's lost earnings over the next 20-plus years and the fact that Hammond will leave behind his five children.
   The award included $1,286,000 in economic damages and $15 million in non- economic, paid and suffering damages.
   Baltimore City Circuit Court Judge Edward J. Angeletti did not instruct the jury on the availability of punitive damages and none were assessed.

   The story of Hammond's exposure to asbestos in 1975 is as atypical as the large verdict he received.    As a seaman on the Nimitz while the ship docked in Newport News, Va., Hammond was assigned to a two-month stint running a communications cable through the ship. In order to do so, he had to sand down asbestos-insulated pipes to make room for the equipment he used to install the cable.
   That sanding produced the asbestos dust that in 1995 led to his mesothelioma diagnosis.
   Normally, asbestos plaintiffs can document years of industrial exposure.    At trial, Hoffman argued -- and the jury apparently believed -- that Hammond never received warnings from superior officers about the dangers of inhaling asbestos dust.    Despite that finding, the panel was unwilling to blame the Navy.
   "In light of the sum total of the evidence, the jury found that to the extent that the navy's conduct may not have been adequate, it was not so egregious as to entirely relieve Owens-Corning of liability," Hoffman said.
   Owens-Corning's local counsel, Gregory Lockwood of Miles & Stockbridge, said his client will appeal the jury's verdict. He said recent court rulings that cap damages could reduce the judgment.
   Owens-Corning pursued other asbestos manufacturers for contribution in the case, but the jury rejected those claims.
   Hammond, a resident of Savannah, Ga., currently works as a civilian engineer for the Army Corps. of Engineers.