Phase two deliberations begin in asbestos lung cancer case

By Jon Campisi | May 23, 2011

An eight-member Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas jury began deliberating May 23 in the liability phase of an asbestos mass tort claim that was first filed six years ago.

Phase two in the trial pitting the estate of Herman Dickerson against what at the beginning was a long list of manufacturers, distributors and suppliers of asbestos-related products got under way more than a week after the jury determined damages in the case.

When phase one reached conclusion, the jury found the remaining four defendants–A.W. Chesterton, Inc., Owens-Illinois, Inc., Brand Insulation, Inc. and John Crane, Inc.–owed the plaintiff $100,000, according to plaintiff’s attorney Richard P. Hackman.

Hackman said half of the judgment would go to Dickerson’s widow, Lenore Dickerson, since she had a loss of consortium count in the claim, and half would go to the Dickerson estate.

In court Monday, Hackman and lawyers representing defendant John Crane Inc. presented their closing arguments before the jury headed off to determine liability in the case.

Herman Dickerson was diagnosed with lung cancer after three-plus decades of working with asbestos products. He died six years ago.

Daniel Griffin, of the Illinois law firm O’Connell & Associates, P.C., one of two attorneys representing John Crane, Inc., said during his closing that he believes the jury would find that his client was not responsible for Herman Dickerson’s lung cancer, since any exposure Dickerson would have had to asbestos in relation to John Crane products, namely gaskets and packing materials, would not have been of a high enough caliber to cause his cancer.

“Asbestos insulation is entirely different than gaskets and packing,” Griffin said in court, referencing some of the other companies involved.

Griffin referenced earlier testimony at trial that dealt with levels of asbestos in the air versus those found exclusively at companies that deal with asbestos-related products.

Griffin said the levels of asbestos found in the air in Philadelphia was close to that of the levels found in the atmosphere of companies that deal with asbestos in small doses.

“We’re on par with the [asbestos found in the] ambient air level,” Griffin said. “John Crane products were not a real factor … they were not a factual cause,” of Dickerson’s lung cancer.

Juries in mass tort cases such as this are charged with determining whether asbestos was a real and factual cause of a plaintiff’s hardship. In this case, the jury was charged with determining whether asbestos was the cause of Dickerson’s lung cancer, even though the deceased was also a cigarette smoker.

Hackman, the plaintiff’s attorney, took issue with the defense’s assertion that Dickerson’s asbestos-related condition could only be traced to his years working with asbestos-containing insulation and not the gaskets and packing materials found at companies like John Crane.

Using an analogy, Hackman said laying that type of blame is like saying someone’s lung cancer was caused by the years of smoking one brand of cigarette and not another.

In this case, Hackman said, blame should be apportioned, since each of the defendant’s involved manufactured or distributed asbestos-related products in some fashion.

Countering Griffin’s claims, Hackman said he believes the evidence showed that asbestos levels found in gaskets and packing materials were, in fact, high enough to cause cancer.

During his own closing argument, Hackman said during Dickerson’s three-plus decade career working as a laborer, pipefitter and maintenance foreman, he came into constant contact with asbestos.

“His exposure on any given day could be thousands of fibers,” Hackman said.

According to the lawsuit, Dickerson was diagnosed with lung cancer in October 2004. He succumbed to the disease on Jan. 27, 2005.

The trial is being presided over by Common Pleas Court Judge Ricardo Jackson.

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