Jury Awards Shipyard Worker's Widow $10M

The Associated Press
Thursday, July 27, 2006; 11:41 AM

NEWPORT NEWS, Va. -- A jury awarded $10.4 million to the widow of a former shipyard worker who died of lung cancer after four years of working with materials that contained asbestos.

The Newport News Circuit Court verdict in Wanda Jones' wrongful death lawsuit against three companies that manufactured the materials was handed down Wednesday, the first anniversary of the death of 60-year-old Buddy Jones.

"It's a mixed day," Wanda Jones said. "At least there's been some justice and recognition for what he went through, certainly through no fault of his own. He just went to work and did what he was trained to do on the job."

Her attorney, Robert Hatten, called the verdict a landmark because one-third of the judgment will come from John Crane Inc., which has refused to settle other asbestos cases.

"A lot of these companies now accept responsibility and settle these cases regularly," said Hatten, who has represented thousands of shipyard workers exposed to asbestos. "I hope this verdict will make companies like John Crane change their corporate attitude."

Attorneys for John Crane, a unit of British manufacturer Smiths Group PLC, said the company's products could not have harmed workers.

"We defend cases because we believe in the safety of the product," attorney Ed Mueller said. "If you were sitting here right now, I'd take a piece out and put it around my neck and wear it home."

Mueller said the company, which stopped making products with asbestos in the 1980s, will appeal the verdict.

The judgment is split with two other companies: Denver's Johns Manville Corp., a unit of billionaire investor Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway Inc. that makes roofing, insulation and other industrial materials; and Garlock Sealing Technologies, a Palmyra, N.Y., unit of EnPro Industries Inc. in Charlotte, N.C.

Buddy Jones was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer caused almost exclusively by asbestos. Because the cancer can lie dormant for 20 to 50 years, some older shipyard workers are just realizing the effects of their asbestos exposure.

Dr. John C. Maddox testified at the three-week trial that he has seen about 500 mesothelioma patients in his practice at Riverside Regional Medical Center.

Jones spent four years sealing pumps and making gaskets at Newport News Shipbuilding _ now Northrop Grumman Newport News _ in the 1960s before returning to college and becoming a computer programmer in Richmond. When he suddenly got sick in late 2004, his doctor thought it was pneumonia. Then he found the tumors in Jones' lungs. Jones died within a year.

The shipyard stopped using products containing asbestos the mid 1980s.

© 2006 The Associated Press