Asbestos Mesothelioma Cancer Case Joining Multiple Plaintiffs Into One Trial*



Summary:

This is an asbestos mesothelioma cancer case review. The lawsuit originated after twelve plaintiffs, including named Executors of several deceased plaintiffs, contended their exposure to asbestos over prolonged periods of time resulted in serious bodily injury and death.

All twelve plaintiffs contended they contracted asbestos cancer while working at their respective jobs for the defendant. The defendant corporation disputed the plaintiffs' allegations by contending the injuries and deaths of the plaintiffs occurred over a fifty year time span and as such amounted to only .09 percent of the defendant's entire workforce during that same period.

Statement of Facts...

The twelve plaintiffs worked for the defendant Nationwide Standard at four of Nationwide's six warehouses. The plaintiffs were employed by Nationwide over a period of fifty years. Although nine of the plaintiffs worked at essentially the same jobs, none of them was employed by Nationwide during the same period of time. Of the remaining three plaintiffs none were employed by Nationwide at the same warehouse or at the same type of job during the same period of time.

Medical evidence at trial confirmed each of the twelve plaintiffs was either suffering from the asbestos mesothelioma cancer, or had died from the disease. The ages of the plaintiffs ranged from 42 to 64 years.

The Trial...

Before the start of the trial, Nationwide's attorneys, sensing the highly prejudicial effect the wheelchairs, autopsies, and other very graphic testimony from the plaintiffs and their families would have on the jury, filed a Motion for a Change of Venue.

In its Motion, Nationwide argued the plaintiffs' appearances in wheelchairs with oxygen tanks attached, along with the plaintiffs' families emotional testimony would not be probative, but instead would be unfairly prejudicial. Nationwide's attorneys requested the trial be moved upstate approximately 110 miles from the county in which the lawsuit was presently filed. The court denied the Motion.

During trial the plaintiffs' attorneys collectively called over 34 witnesses. The trial lasted for over four months. During that time numerous medical experts were called to testify for the plaintiffs. Their testimony was essentially the same; that each plaintiff was either presently suffering from asbestos mesothelioma cancer or had died from the complications of the disease. The experts also testified that the asbestos located in the plaintiffs' work environment at Nationwide directly and proximately caused their injuries and death.

The trial included the emotional testimony of family members who identified the deceased in open Court together with stories of their prolonged and painful deaths. The testimony also came from several plaintiffs who spoke with great discomfort from their wheelchairs. The testimony recounted the financial hardships many of the plaintiffs and their families were suffering.

Each living plaintiff confirmed the presence of asbestos in the workplace at Nationwide.

Nationwide offered the following evidence in their defense, through witness testimony and certified business records. That testimony including the following:

  • The plaintiffs did not share a common work site or even common types of work.

  • The plaintiffs did not share common occupations.

  • The plaintiffs' alleged their exposure to the asbestos occurred over a period spanning over fifty years, from 1959 through 2010.

  • During that period of time none of the plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos for an equal amount of time.

  • The testimony of the defendant's family members was similar, cumulative, and unnecessarily compounding.

  • The plaintiffs were unable to show with any identifiable certainty a manner in which the asbestos caused mesothelioma cancer to each of them.

  • The plaintiffs constituted only .09 percent of the number of workers employed by Nationwide over the fifty year period in which the plaintiffs individually and collectively asserted they had contracted asbestos mesothelioma cancer.

Outcome...

The jury deliberated for 8 days. During that time they asked the court for parts of the testimony of various doctors, asbestos specialists and three of the plaintiffs. They also asked for various exhibits which were admitted into testimony.

In the Jury Charge the Court instructed the jury to consider the following questions while deliberating on their verdict:

  1. Did the any or all of the plaintiffs share a common worksite?

  2. Were any or all of the plaintiffs involved in similar occupations?

  3. Were any or all of the plaintiffs exposed to asbestos for a similarly identifiable period of time?

  4. Did any or all of the plaintiffs suffer from the same type of asbestos mesothelioma cancer?

  5. Was the plaintiffs' cancer caused by the defendant Nationwide?

  6. If the cancer was caused by Nationwide's actions, which of plaintiffs' injuries or deathes were caused by the asbestos on Nationwide's property?

  7. Were the injuries and deaths identified a direct and proximate result of the defendant Nationwide's negligence?

On the eighth day the jury returned its verdict. They found as follows:

"As to question number 1, we find all plaintiffs shared a common worksite and that worksite was the property of the defendant Nationwide.

As to question number 2, we find all plaintiffs were engaged in similar occupations.

As to question number 3, we are unable to determine if any of the plaintiffs were exposed to asbestos for a similarly identifiable period of time.

As to question number 4, we find all plaintiffs suffered from the same type of asbestos cancer.

As to question number 5, we find the cause of the plaintiffs' cancer to have been caused by the defendant Nationwide.

As to question number 6, we find all of the plaintiffs' injuries were caused from the asbestos located on the defendant Nationwide's property.

As to question number 7, we find the injuries and deaths of all plaintiffs were a direct and proximate result of the defendant Nationwide's negligence."

The jury went on to award specific amounts to each of the twelve plaintiffs. The estates of the deceased plaintiffs were awarded an average of $413,000, while living plaintiffs received an average of $742,000 each. The total amount of the award was $13,532,000.

Important Points...

  • Because of their expense and complexity, asbestos cases are often tried in "units". Those units are normally comprised of multiple plaintiffs suing collectively and individually. Pursuing cases in this fashion allows clients who couldn't normally afford the fees of the necessary expert witnesses to split the costs among a number of people who have similar cases.

  • The manner in which juries arrive at financial compensation verdicts in asbestos as well as other personal injury and wrongful death cases is both complex and often relatively subjective. If the plaintiff is still living and completely debilitated by the injury a jury will often make a decision based upon the amount of money that plaintiff would have been able to make over his working lifetime. For example:

    If a 45 year old plaintiff became wholly disabled as a result of a defendant's negligence, a jury might take the amount of earnings he would have made from the time of his disability to his retirement at 65.

    If that plaintiff was making $30,000 annually the jury would take that amount and multiply it by 20.That would equal $600,000. Add to that the jury's determination of how much more the plaintiff might have made in bonuses or raises during his working years (presuming the plaintiffs entered those matters into evidence during the trial).

    Once that amount is determined the jury has the option of awarding an additional amount for the pain and suffering or emotional distress the plaintiff suffered and will continue to suffer. That might increase the verdict for that plaintiff to $800,000 or more.


*This case example is for educational purposes only. It is based on actual events although names have been changed to protect those involved. Any resemblance to real persons or entities is purely coincidental.

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