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Judge awards $90.5 million for asbestos-related deaths

In a ruling that could have a significant impact on asbestos product liability lawsuits in North Carolina, a judge in another state awarded $90.5 million dollars to 11 families who lost members to lung cancer caused by inhalation of asbestos fibers. The ruling is striking for two reasons: first, the defendants were not manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, but instead supplied asbestos to Johns-Manville Company for use in manufacturing insulation and, second, several of the victims did not work at a Johns Manville plant.

The supplier defendants are not manufacturers of asbestos products; instead, they own foreign corporations that mined asbestos in South Africa and sold it to many customers world-wide, including Johns Manville, from the 1950s to the 1980s. Manville used asbestos to make insulation, insulated pipes and other heat and fire resistant products. The damages will be paid by Anova Holding, AG and Becon who now own the companies who originally mined and sold the asbestos. Neither Anova nor Becon responded to the lawsuit, and the court found both companies in default.

All of the victims in these cases died from mesothelioma, an aggressive form of lung cancer that is most commonly caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. Some of the victims worked at Johns Manville factories and were exposed to asbestos on the job. A number of victims, however, did not work at a Manville facility but instead were family members of Manville employees. They were exposed to asbestos by inhaling fibers on the clothing of other family members who worked at a Manville plant.

This ruling can help North Carolina residents suffering from asbestos exposure because it imposes liability on suppliers in foreign countries. Bankruptcies have sharply reduced the number of asbestos manufacturers in the United States who can pay damages to successful plaintiffs, and the finding of liability in the New Jersey case may help victims recover damages from overseas companies who have not yet filed bankruptcy.

Source: nj.com, "$90.5 million awarded to 11 Manville families who lost members to asbestos-related cancer," Sue Epstein, July 2, 2014

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