Asbestos is a mineral with unique properties that make it extraordinarily useful in construction trades and some other industries.
- It is heat-resistant (fireproof)
- It blocks sound
- It resists any chemical change
- It does not conduct electricity
- It has great tensile strength
For about 100 years, asbestos was widely used for electrical and sound insulation, fireproofing, and construction strength. It was woven into fabric, mixed with cement, wrapped around wiring and pipes, built into ovens, and generally became a common part of all building environments.
Asbestos and Cancer
Eventually it was determined that asbestos fibers were harmful to health. They easily become airborne and can be breathed in by asbestos mine workers or anyone working in an industry using products that contain asbestos.
Since asbestos is resistant to chemical change, the body is unable to dislodge fibers from the lungs. The immune system sends its macrophages to engulf the microscopic fibers, but the fibers survive and the macrophages die. Thus, over the years and decades, there is a build-up of irritation and dead cells and gradually a tumor forms. This is how pleural mesothelioma happens, a type of lung cancer. Please see our page on Types of Mesothelioma for more details.
The Waltons’ Claim
Between 1946 and 1968, one Edward Walton served in the U.S. Navy and worked part of that time as a welder and metal smith on ships with metal valves that had asbestos gaskets and packing. After he was out of the Navy, Walton spent 31 years running a painting company and working with assorted asbestos-containing materials such as sheetrock and textured ceilings.
In 2005, he was diagnosed with lung cancer. In 2006, he and his wife sued 46 defendants for negligence and strict liability, claiming that Walton’s cancer and other related medical conditions were caused by his exposure to their asbestos products. They sought punitive damages as well as compensation.
As the trial progressed, each defendant was dismissed from the case, until only The William Powell Company remained. Powell, based in Cincinnati, had sold some of the valves with gaskets and packing to the Navy. Walton stated that he worked only on old valves with layers of old paint and that the original gaskets and packing were no longer present. It became clear that Powell did not make the gaskets or packing, just the valves, which had no asbestos. Walton also stated that he removed asbestos insulation from around the valves many times and breathed dirty air, but saw no asbestos warnings on the valves.
Eventually the jury assigned Powell a 25 percent share of the responsibility for Walton’s cancer and awarded about $5.6 million in compensation to the plaintiffs, but no punitive damages.
Reversal of Jury’s Award
Powell appealed and after further arguments, the appeal judge ruled that Powell was not responsible for Walton’s illnesses. She ruled that he was harmed by the asbestos insulation around the valves but not by Powell’s valves themselves.
- “Powell supplied none of the asbestos products to which Edwards was exposed, and its valves had no defect rendering Powell liable for the injuries that Walton may have sustained through exposure to asbestos products from other sources,” she wrote.
Mesothelioma cases have been on the rise recently, as workers like Walton, who were exposed several decades ago to asbestos, are now being diagnosed. If you or a loved one would like to learn more about your legal options regarding mesothelioma, please contact our Mobile, Alabama office for a free case evaluation.