Former C&H Sugar Employee's $5.5M Asbestos Win Stands

March 27, 2012 – Media Coverage
Law360

Law360, Los Angeles (March 27, 2012, 8:16 PM EDT) -- A California state judge on Tuesday refused John Crane Inc.'s bid to overturn a $5.5 million jury verdict in favor of a man who claims he contracted incurable mesothelioma while working as a mechanic at a C&H Sugar Co. Inc. refinery and power plant that used JCI gaskets.

Judge Amy Hogue denied the motion by JCI, which made asbestos-containing parts for the facility, which claimed there wasn't enough evidence at trial for jurors to give an award to Richard A. Keeney and his domestic partner Howard Garcia. Keeney, 71, was diagnosed in January 2011 with malignant mesothelimoa, an incurable cancer affecting the lining around the lung that is caused by asbestos exposure.

Judge Hogue accepted the jury's finding that the company was negligent for failing to warn about the potential health risks of using its products, which contained asbestos.

JCI produced gaskets and other products containing the toxic particles, that were used in the C&H Sugar refinery where Keeney worked for 15 years. A Los Angeles panel ruled on Jan. 26 that JCI and C&H were both partially responsible for exposing Keeney to the asbestos particles that lead to his cancer.

JCI sold asbestos-containing gaskets and packaging until July 31, 1985, which Keeney used and handled throughout his time at the C&H plant, according to court documents. Before working at the plant Keeney served in the U.S. Navy where he  was also exposed to products that contained asbestos, according to court documents.

Keeney waived all claims against the defendants based on his exposure to asbestos on equipment while onboard Navy ships and installations, according to court documents.

Following the trial, Keeney was awarded more than $4 million for past and future noneconomic damages, according to the verdict. Guzman, his partner, was awarded more than $321,000 for loss of consortium, the verdict said.

The panel assigned the bulk of the liability, 70 percent, to the Navy. The remaining liability was divvied up between C&H Sugar, JCI and Keeney, who the jury determined was aware of the health risks associated with his work,

Although the court didn't overturn the verdict, Judge Hogue's ruling Monday wasn't a total win for Keeney.

The court denied a separate motion that sought a new judgment assigning sole responsibility of Keeney's sickness to JCI. Keeney claimed that the company had not provided enough evidence during the course of the trial to show that he, the Navy or C&H Sugar were also responsible for the asbestos exposure at issue in the case.

Attorneys representing Keeney and JCI declined to comment following the ruling.

Keeney is represented by Simona A. Farrise and Carlos J. Guzman of the Farrise Firm P.C.

JCI is represented by Claire C. Weglarz of Hawkins Parnell & Young.

The case is Richard Keeney et al. v. A.W. Chesterton Co. et al., case number, BC457255, in the Superior Court of the State of California, County of Los Angeles.