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December 2016

Gordon & Rees Team Secures Complete Defense Verdict in Mesothelioma Case After Three-Week Trial

A multi-office team of Gordon & Rees partners James A. Lowery of Dallas and Robert A. Rich of Oakland, with associate Brian Roth of Chicago, secured a complete defense verdict after a three-week trial for their client, Hennessy Industries, Inc., in a hotly contested trial in Cedar Rapids, Iowa.
In this wrongful death action brought by his widow, it was alleged that the 68-year-old decedent, a career automotive mechanic instructor at a community college, had been exposed to asbestos released when he and others used AMMCO brake arcing machines on asbestos brakes.  As a result of the exposure, plaintiff alleged that decedent developed and subsequently died from pleural mesothelioma.  Hennessy was the only remaining defendant at trial. The plaintiff called experts Dr. Arnold Brody (cell biology), Dr. Edwin Holstein (occupational medicine), and Dr. John Maddox (pathology).
The client maintained that it was not negligent and did not fail to warn, highlighting Hennessy’s good corporate conduct when it first learned of the potential hazards of asbestos: (1) testing; (2) re-engineering; and (3) warning.  Hennessy further maintained that decedent’s mesothelioma was the result of exposure to large quantities of asbestos-containing phenolic resins he encountered while working at a manufacturing plant earlier in his career, some of which contained more potent crocidolite asbestos fibers.  Hennessy called experts Dr. Raymond Harbison (toxicology) and Dr. Victor Roggli (pathology).
At the close of the plaintiff’s case, the court granted Hennessy’s motion for directed verdict on the plaintiff’s punitive damages claim, and that issue never reached the jury. During closing arguments, the plaintiff’s counsel asked the jury for more than $8 million in compensatory damages.
After approximately four and one-half hours of deliberation, the jury unanimously concluded that Hennessy was not at fault for negligence and found in its favor.  Therefore, the jury did not have to address whether exposure from using AMMCO brake arcing machines was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s mesothelioma. The jury also did not have to apportion fault among other resolved parties not present at trial (Gordon & Rees attorneys were successful in arguing that 18 entities should be included on the verdict form for apportionment, in the event the jury got that far).

James A. Lowery
Robert A. Rich
Brian Roth