$11 Million Wrongful Death Award is Second Jury Award in Mesothelioma Case

Gordon Bankhead died in 2011 due to mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.

Gordon Bankhead died in 2011 due to mesothelioma from asbestos exposure.

A California jury has made an $11 million wrongful death award to the family of a man who died from mesothelioma, also known as “asbestos cancer.” The award comes after a previous $13 million personal injury award in the same case.

The two awards, resulting from two separate trials based on two separate claims filed by the deceased Gordon Bankhead and his family, illustrate the possibilities and the complexities of personal injury lawsuits. The awards also underscore the culpability that juries are attributing to the manufacturers of asbestos-containing products, when the manufacturers knew for decades that asbestos exposure caused mesothelioma.

Gordon Bankhead was an auto parts worker for 34 years, inspecting, replacing, grinding and blowing out dust from vehicle brakes that contained asbestos. Bankhead was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2010 and died in 2011.

Bankhead’s first lawsuit was filed in Alameda County Superior Court in Oakland while he was still alive. In that first lawsuit, Bankhead was awarded $4 million in compensatory damages in December 2010 for his medical expenses, lost income, loss of consortium and personal suffering. However, that was not the end of the first lawsuit.

The jury also found that the four defendants in Bankhead’s personal injury lawsuit acted with malice because they knew that asbestos caused mesothelioma but did nothing to prevent Bankhead’s exposure or warn him of the danger. That kicked the first trial into a second phase on punitive damages. In January 2011, the jury awarded an additional $9 million in punitive damages. The four defendants appealed the personal injury awards, but they were upheld on appeal.

Mr. Bankhead died in October 2011. After his death, in June 2012, his family filed a wrongful death claim. Unlike the first claim for personal injuries suffered by Mr. Bankhead, a wrongful death claim is for the economic and personal losses experienced by the family of the deceased.

Because of the previous personal injury verdict, the wrongful death trial did not include any argument about the cause of Bankhead’s death or the defendants’ responsibility in that death. The jury in the second case was only asked to determine the correct compensation to Bankhead’s family. Bankhead died at age 68, seventeen years before his life expectancy.

Last month, after a two-day trial, the jury awarded $11 million to Bankhead’s family on the wrongful death claim, awarding $6 million to Bankhead’s widow and $2.5 million each to his two adult daughters.

Defendant in the second trial was Pneumo Abex, which manufactured the asbestos-containing brake linings. However, the jury did not order Pneumo Abex to pay the full $11 million award. Pneumo Abex had been one of four defendant corporations in the personal injury trial. The other defendants reached settlements with the family on the wrongful death claim, leaving Pneumo Abex the only remaining defendant.

The jury found that Pneumo Abex was responsible for 30% of the wrongful death claim, which calculates to a net wrongful death award of $3.3 million.

Mesothelioma is a rare form of terminal cancer which is almost always a result of exposure to asbestos. There is no known cure. It takes decades for the symptoms of mesothelioma to emerge. The median latency period in one study was 32 years. Bankhead began working with asbestos in 1965 and was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2010, 45 years later.

For more information about mesothelioma or the legal rights of those who have suffered adverse effects from asbestos exposure, see our webpage: “Mesothelioma, ‘Asbestos Cancer’: FAQs and Your Legal Rights.”