Former Pipe Fitter with Mesothelioma Awarded $90 Million

An Illinois court awarded Charles Gillenwater with $89.6 million in damages after he developed mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure in the course of his job, reports the Associated Press.  According to the article, Gillenwater, who worked as a pipe fitter in the 1970s, alleged that four companies – Owens-Illinois Inc., Honeywell International Inc., Pneumo Abex, and John Crane Inc. – conspired to keep hidden the dangers of the asbestos used in their products. Until the 1980s, asbestos was a commonly used material in many pipes, joints, gaskets, and pipe coverings.  Asbestos provided excellent insulation for the material traveling through the pipes and protected them from damage and corrosion, but often had disastrous health consequences for those who worked with it.  According to the AP, Gillenwater performed pipe fitting work throughout the 1970s at locations such as Illinois State University, Bridgestone-Firestone, and Eureka Co. The jury sided with Gillenwater, agreeing that Owens-Illinois, Honeywell, and Pneumo Abex were guilty of conspiracy, says the AP, but only charged John Crane with negligence.  According to Bryan Redding, tort and personal injury law blogger for Lexis Nexis, $20 million in damages was leveled against Honeywell, $20 million against Pneumo Abex, and $40 million against Owens-Illinois.  Redding says that Gillenwater was awarded an additional $9.6 million from all four companies in compensatory damages. The AP also reports that Owens-Illinois, the world’s largest manufacturer of glass containers, is disappointed by the verdict and plans to appeal.  According to a statement on the company’s website, Gillenwater’s exposure to asbestos began in 1972, 14 years after Owens-Illinois had discontinued the use of asbestos in its products.  The AP confirms that Gillenwater never claimed to work for the company or to have been exposed to asbestos by any of the products it made.  Even so, the jury found Owens-Illinois guilty of “conspiring to conceal information about the health risks of asbestos from their employees, customers, and others,” says the AP article. At age 59, Gillenwater is young for a mesothelioma patient, since symptoms generally take between 20 and 50 years to appear after asbestos exposure, and Redding cites an anonymous source who attributes the large verdict to Gillenwater’s relative youth, as well as his short lifespan anticipation.   Diagnosed in 2009, Gillenwater likely does not have long to live, since mesothelioma life expectancy is generally between eight and 14 months after diagnosis. References: Associated Press. (March 14, 2011). “Owens-Illinois denies asbestos conspiracy claim.” Retrieved March 31, 2011 from MSNBC. Owens-Illinois, Inc. (n.d.) “Owens-Illinois, Inc., statement regarding asbestos case verdict.” Retrieved March 31, 2011 from Owens-Illinois. Redding, Bryan. (March 15, 2011). “Jury returns $89.6 million asbestos verdict against 4 defendants in Illinois.” Retrieved March 31, 2011 from LexisNexis. Previous: Five Types of Mesothelioma: Peritoneal Mesothelioma Next: Asbestos Poses New Threat After Japan's Earthquake, Tsunami