California Verdicts

Find out about the most important recent California cases, selected by VerdictSearch editors. Coverage includes Alameda, Los Angeles, Orange, San Francisco and San Diego counties.

Subscribe to VerdictSearch for access to all California verdictsPricing Options

Family: Decedent’s home town contaminated by refinery

Amount:

$12,958,461

Type:

Verdict-Plaintiff

State:

California

Venue:

Alameda County

Court:

Superior Court of Alameda County, Oakland

Injury Type(s):

other-death; other-loss of society; other-radiation therapy; cancer-chemotherapy; cancer-mesothelioma

Case Type:

Toxic Torts – Asbestos; Wrongful Death – Survival Damages; Premises Liability – Failure to Warn, Dangerous Condition; Worker/Workplace Negligence – Negligent Maintenance

Case Name:

Lanette Louise Lopez, Mark Lopez, Seth Vincent Lopez and Pilar Elan Nabb v. Asbestos Corporation, Ltd., The Hillshire Brands Company, Allied Packing & Supply, Inc., Basco Drywall & Painting Company, Consolidated Foods Corporation, Consolidated Grocers Corporation, Crane Company, Crown Cork & Seal, Honeywell International, Inc., Imperial Sugar Company, Owens-Illinois, Inc., Soco-West, Inc., Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative, Speckels Sugar Company, Inc., Union Carbide Corporation, Union Sugar Company, and Does 1 through 300, Inclusive,
No. RG14721622

Date:

August 16, 2017

Parties

Plaintiff(s):

Pilar Elan Nabb (Female, 23 Years), 

Seth Vincent Lopez (Male, 18 Years), 

Estate of Mark Lopez (Male, 59 Years), 

Lanette Louise Lopez (Female)

Plaintiff Attorney(s):

Jeffrey A. Kaiser;
Kaiser Gornick LLP;
Walnut Creek,
CA,
for
Pilar Elan Nabb, Seth Vincent Lopez, Estate of Mark Lopez, Lanette Louise Lopez ■ Lawrence J. Gornick;
Kaiser Gornick LLP;
Walnut Creek,
CA,
for
Pilar Elan Nabb, Seth Vincent Lopez, Estate of Mark Lopez, Lanette Louise Lopez ■ David Markevitch;
Kaiser Gornick LLP;
Foster City,
CA,
for
Pilar Elan Nabb, Seth Vincent Lopez, Estate of Mark Lopez, Lanette Louise Lopez

Plaintiff Expert(s):

John Templin; C.I.H.; Industrial Hygiene; San Francisco,
CA called by:
Jeffrey A. Kaiser, Lawrence J. Gornick, David Markevitch ■ Allan Smith; M.D.; Epidemiology; Berkeley,
CA called by:
Jeffrey A. Kaiser, Lawrence J. Gornick, David Markevitch ■ Barry Horn; M.D.; Pulmonology; Oakland,
CA called by:
Jeffrey A. Kaiser, Lawrence J. Gornick, David Markevitch ■ Robert Johnson; C.P.A.; Economics; Los Altos,
CA called by:
Jeffrey A. Kaiser, Lawrence J. Gornick, David Markevitch

Defendant(s):

Crane Company, 

Soco-West, Inc., 

Crown Cork & Seal, 

Union Sugar Company, 

Owens-Illinois, Inc., 

Imperial Sugar Company, 

Union Carbide Corporation, 

Asbestos Corporation, LTD., 

Speckels Sugar Company, Inc., 

The Hillshire Brands Company, 

Allied Packing & Supply, Inc., 

Honeywell International, Inc., 

Consolidated Foods Corporation, 

Basco Drywall & Painting Company, 

Consolidated Grocers Corporation, 

Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative

Defense Attorney(s):

Jason J. Curliano;
Buty & Curliano LLP;
Oakland,
CA,
for
The Hillshire Brands Company ■ None reported; Oakland,
CA,
for
Crane Company, Soco-West, Inc., Crown Cork & Seal, Union Sugar Company, Owens-Illinois, Inc., Imperial Sugar Company, Union Carbide Corporation, Asbestos Corporation, LTD., Speckels Sugar Company, Inc., Allied Packing & Supply, Inc., Honeywell International, Inc., Consolidated Foods Corporation, Basco Drywall & Painting Company, Consolidated Grocers Corporation, Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative ■ P. Stephen Fardy;
Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP;
Chicago,
IL,
for
The Hillshire Brands Company ■ Arthur J. Reliford, Jr.;
Swanson, Martin & Bell, LLP;
Chicago,
IL,
for
The Hillshire Brands Company

Defendant Expert(s):

Benjamin Heckman;
Industrial Hygiene;
Mechanicsburg,
PA called by:
Jason J. Curliano, P. Stephen Fardy, Arthur J. Reliford, Jr.

Facts:

In 2014, plaintiffs’ decedent Mark Lopez, 59, was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He later passed away from the disease on July 7, 2015. His family claimed that Lopez developed mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos while growing up in the small company town that surrounded a sugar refinery that used vast amounts of asbestos insulation. The decedent’s wife, Lanette Lopez, and his children, Seth Lopez and Pilar Nabb, sued The Hillshire Brands Co., Asbestos Corp. Ltd., Honeywell International Inc., and various other product manufacturers. The decedent’s family brought products liability and negligence claims against the defendants, alleging that the defendants were strictly liable for failing to warn about the risks those living in the small company town faced in being exposed to asbestos. They also brought premises liability claims against Hillshire Brands, alleging that it failed to properly maintain its factory and town, creating a dangerous condition, and that failed to warn about the hazardous condition. Various product manufacturers, including Asbestos Corp. and Honeywell International, were ultimately dismissed or settled out of the case well before trial. Thus, the matter proceeded to trial against Hillshire Brands only. The decedent’s family alleged that Mark Lopez developed mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos while growing up in the small company town of Betteravia in the 1950s and 1960s. The town surrounded a now abandoned sugar refinery, formerly owned by the Hillshire Brands Co. The refinery was located six miles west of Santa Maria and it allegedly used vast amounts of asbestos insulation as it turned beets into sugar. The Betteravia residents worked at Hillshire’s Union Sugar refinery, which Hillshire sold in 1986, before the refinery was closed in 1993. Lopez’s family contended that from 1954 through 1964, Lopez lived, as a child, in employee housing owned by Hillshire Brands, which was located a few hundred yards from Hillshire’s sugar refinery. Lopez’s father worked in the Hillshire’s refinery for over 40 years. Thus, the family claimed that Lopez continued to be exposed, through his father, after the family moved to Santa Maria in 1964. Plaintiffs’ counsel contended that the entire town of Betteravia was contaminated from the Hillshire Brands’ refinery. Counsel also contended that twice a year, the refinery closed for maintenance, during which time workers aggressively removed the asbestos using claw hammers and other tools, and that many times the asbestos was fed through an electric grinder to be reused as insulating cement, causing an unsafe amount of asbestos to be released into the air. In addition, plaintiffs’ counsel contended that there was a dump on-site where the asbestos debris was taken and where many children played, including Lopez. Thus, plaintiffs’ counsel argued that Hillshire Brands was negligent in its management of the refinery, the surrounding area, and the houses it rented to its refinery employees. Counsel further argued that Hillshire Brands’ actions created a dangerous condition and that it failed to warn about that condition. The plaintiffs’ experts’ opined that Hillshire Brands was negligent in how it used asbestos materials, thereby contaminating the refinery and surrounding area. The experts’ also opined that Hillshire Brands was negligent in allowing refinery workers to unknowingly take asbestos home on their clothes, exposing their families. The plaintiffs’ experts’ further opined that even before Lopez was born, asbestos hazards were known to the industrial, scientific and medical community, and that knowledge that asbestos exposure could cause cancer was made public around the time of Lopez’s birth. Thus, plaintiffs’ counsel argued that Hillshire Brands had a duty to inspect the premises, make it safe, and to inform employees and others about the risk of asbestos. Instead, the plaintiffs’ experts’ opined that Hillshire Brands allowed asbestos and products containing asbestos to be used and disposed of on the premises without consulting with properly-trained safety experts and medical personnel. Thus, the experts opined that Hillshire Brands failed to maintain a safe premises, and failed to understand and follow the state and federal health and safety regulations concerning asbestos. Hillshire’s defense counsel contended that there were no defects present at the time the refinery left Hillshire Brands’ custody and that the company had no connection with the manufacture or distribution of any maintenance equipment in the refinery. Counsel also contended that the decedent should have known about the risk of harm or danger the use of the products allegedly at issue posed and that Lopez’s death was not caused by anything that may have occurred at Hillshire Brands’ plant in the 1960s or 1970s. Thus, Hillshire’s counsel argued that Hillshire Brands did not negligently expose Lopez to asbestos from its refinery and that Lopez’s mesothelioma was not the company’s fault, but was, instead, either the fault of others or was not caused by asbestos exposure. Counsel further argued that any alleged misuse of products supplied by Hillshire Brands that may have resulted in injury or damages was not intentional and that any alleged damage or loss should be apportioned accordingly.

Injury:

Mark Lopez was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2014, at the age of 59. He subsequently underwent numerous medical procedures, including 22 rounds of chemotherapy, radiation, immunotherapy, and a surgical procedure. However, he ultimately died from the disease on July 7, 2015. At trial, the parties stipulated that Lopez’s medical expenses totaled $811,581. Lopez’s widow, Lanette Lopez; his daughter, Pilar Nabb (then 23 years old); and his son, Seth Lopez (then 18), also sought recovery of the loss of the decedent’s income and non-economic damages for the loss of the decedent’s care, comfort, support, society and companionship. Hillshire Brands’ counsel argued that the decedent’s mesothelioma was not the company’s fault, but was, instead, either the fault of the misuse of the products supplied by others or was not caused by asbestos exposure.

Result:

The jury found that Hillshire Brands acted negligently while operating the refinery and that Mark Lopez’s death was directly related to the company’s actions. It also found that none of the product manufacturers were responsible for Lopez’s illness and that Hillshire Brands was solely to blame. The jury determined that the Lopez family’s damages totaled $12,958,461, including $1,958,461 in economic damages and $11 million in non-economic damages.

Estate of Mark Lopez: $1,958,461 Wrongful Death: economic damages; $11,000,000 Wrongful Death: non-economic damages

Trial Information:

Judge:

Brad Seligman

Trial Length:

4
 weeks

Trial Deliberations:

4
 hours

Jury Vote:

9-3 as to non-economic damages; 12-0 on all other questions

Post Trial:

Hillshire Brands’ counsel filed lawsuits against Travelers Insurance Co., Continental Casualty Co. and American Home Assurance Co. in relation to insurance coverage for the Lopez case.

Editor’s Comment:

This report is based on information that was gleaned from an article that was published by the Santa Maria Times and an interview of plaintiffs’ counsel. Defense counsel for the Hillshire Brands Co. did not respond to the reporter’s phone calls and counsel for the remaining defendants were not asked to contribute.