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
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
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
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.