In a Washington State court this week, a jury found in favor of a heavy equipment operator’s survivors, granting the heirs an $81.5 million settlement in an asbestos suit awarded unanimously declaring that auto parts makers NAPA and Genuine Parts Corporation (GPC) were responsible for the man’s death.
The jury found that the two companies were “negligent and strictly liable for their defective asbestos-containing products” which caused the death of Jerry Coogan, age 67, of Kettle Falls, Washington. Coogan died two years ago of malignant mesothelioma.
It’s likely that Coogan was exposed both on the job and while enjoying his favorite hobby, fixing old cars. Witnesses testified that he learned how to be an excavator from his grandfather and during his working life often repaired cranes, backhoes, and other construction equipment.
He also loved restoring hot rods and classic cars, his family noted, and as such purchased many asbestos-containing auto parts from NAPA and other parts dealers near his home in the northeast portion of Washington state.
“Many sellers of friction parts such as brakes, clutches and gaskets have known for nearly a century that their products contain asbestos and can kill. But they refuse to acknowledge their responsibility,” said attorney Jessica Dean, who represented the Coogan family. “Even worse, some continued to sell these products until 2001, which means that other families will surely suffer the same fate.”
Dean added that Coogan had no idea he was harming his health by participating in a hobby that he thoroughly enjoyed.
It took 12 weeks to present all the evidence and argue the facts in this trial but it took only five hours of deliberation for the jury to find in favor of Coogan’s survivors.
The massive $81.5 million award is believed to be the largest ever in Washington State history.
Auto mechanics or anyone who works with asbestos auto parts have long been candidates for developing diseases such as malignant mesothelioma or asbestosis.
Because mechanics often work in a confined space, ventilation isn’t always optimal and inhalation of asbestos dust can easily occur. As attorney Dean mentioned, even though asbestos parts should have been out of the picture by the 80s, many were peddled for much longer.
Issues also occur with foreign car parts that contain asbestos because use of the material is not regulated in many of the countries that produce inexpensive brakes, clutches, and other friction parts.