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Helicopter company knew for years about asbestos: family
Dallas County District Court, 95th
other-death; cancer; cancer-mesothelioma
Wrongful Death; Gross Negligence; Toxic Torts - Asbestos; Workplace - Workplace Safety
Billy H. Dickson; and Shirley Dickson v. Georgia-Pacific, LLC, f/k/a Georgia Pacific Corporation, individually and as successor-in-interest to Bestwall Gypsum Company; Guard-Line, Inc.; Kelly-Moore Paint Company, Inc.; Kentile Floors, Inc.; Murco Wall Products, Inc.; Owens-Illinois, Inc. individually and as successor-in-interest to Owens-Illinois Glass Company and d/b/a O-I; and Union Carbide Corporation, No. DC-12-05995
March 27, 2017
Shirley Dickson (Female),
Billy H. Dickson (Male, 70s),
Daryl W. Dickson (Male),
Randall C. Dickson (Male),
Deanna K. Boaz Kizer (Female)
Darren P. McDowell; Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett; Dallas, TX, for Shirley Dickson, Daryl W. Dickson, Randall C. Dickson, Deanna K. Boaz Kizer ■ Sam Iola; Simon Greenstone Panatier Bartlett; Dallas, TX, for Shirley Dickson, Daryl W. Dickson, Randall C. Dickson, Deanna K. Boaz Kizer
Kentile Floors Inc.,
Union Carbide Corp.,
Murco Wall Products Inc.,
Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.,
Kelly-Moore Paint Company Inc.
Don Swaim; Cunningham Swaim LLP; Dallas, TX, for Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. ■ D. Todd Parrish; Cunningham Swaim LLP; Dallas, TX, for Bell Helicopter Textron Inc.
On Sept. 7, 2011, plaintiffs' decedent Billy Dickson, a retiree in his early 70s, was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a terminal cancer of the lining of the lungs that is caused primarily by asbestos exposure. Dickson, a former mechanical engineer, worked for Bell Helicopter Textron Inc. from 1962 until his retirement in 1999. He claimed that, from 1962 through 1973, his work at Bell Helicopter exposed him to asbestos. Dickson designed enclosures for heat-testing helicopter components, including some used in military helicopters during the Vietnam War. He claimed that the enclosures incorporated asbestos insulation boards. Bell Helicopter was a workers' compensation subscriber. Generally, under the Texas Labor Code, workers' compensation is the exclusive remedy against a subscriber for injury or death of an employee, except in the case of death caused by the employer's intentional conduct or gross negligence. In 2012, Dickson and his wife, plaintiff Shirley Dickson, sued several manufacturers of asbestos-containing products. They included Georgia-Pacific LLC, Guard-Line Inc., Kelly-Moore Paint Co. Inc., Kentile Floors Inc., Murco Wall Products Inc., Owens-Illinois Inc. and Union Carbide Corp. Sometime after his deposition, Dickson died in 2013 from complications of mesothelioma. He was survived by his wife; his adult daughter, plaintiff Deanna K. Boaz Kizer; and his two adult sons, plaintiff Randall C. Dickson and plaintiff Daryl W. Dickson. After Dickson's death, the daughter and sons were added as plaintiffs, and Bell Helicopter was added as a defendant. The manufacturer defendants were no longer in the case at the time of trial. The plaintiffs alleged that Bell Helicopter was grossly negligent. According to the plaintiffs, Bell Helicopter knew by 1955 that asbestos exposure could result in fatal diseases, but took no steps to protect workers from asbestos exposure until 1973, when the company started monitoring the air in its workplace. Other protective measures that the company should have implemented include dust control, dust suppression and investigating possible substitute materials, plaintiffs' counsel said. However, all documents from the 1960s and earlier had been destroyed under the company's 30-year document retention policy, and that policy complied with federal regulations. The plaintiffs' occupational medicine expert testified about Dickson's likely exposure levels at Bell, compared to ambient levels in the environment. The plaintiffs' cell biology expert detailed how asbestos causes cellular breakdown and mesothelioma. The case involved "mixed-dust exposure," or exposure to both chrysotile and amphobile asbestos. According to defense counsel, there was strong evidence that Dickson's illness was proximately caused by asbestos exposure at other, non-Bell workplaces, and that the exposure levels at other jobs were higher and involved a more dangerous type of asbestos. However, defense counsel said the MDL judge ruled before trial that Bell Helicopter could not offer evidence that Dickson was exposed to asbestos at other, non-Bell jobs, and the defense was therefore limited at trial to disputing gross negligence. The defense argued that there was no evidence that Bell Helicopter engaged in any grossly negligent conduct. The company introduced test data to argue that its asbestos levels were within the safety limits applicable at the time. In addition, the plaintiffs' occupational medicine expert acknowledged that it was unlikely that Dickson's job at Bell Helicopter exposed him to higher asbestos levels than the science of the time recognized as safe.
Dickson was diagnosed with mesothelioma on Sept. 7, 2011. He tried an experimental chemotherapy, which was to last 38 days. It consisted of daily doses of chemotherapy that were 10 times as strong as the usual treatment. Dickson did not tolerate the experimental therapy well; it resulted in kidney failure, and he stopped the treatment after 21 days. Dickson recuperated and was fairly stable during 2012. In about August 2013, however, his condition worsened, and the following month it took a drastic downturn. Dickson died from complications of mesothelioma on Dec. 15, 2013. He was survived by his wife, adult daughter and two adult sons. The Texas Labor Code prohibits claims for actual damages against workers' compensation subscribers, but the jury has to decide actual damages so that they can be used to calculate the statutory cap. Therefore, plaintiffs in such cases put on evidence of and submit a jury question on actual damages, but not in order to recover them. The plaintiffs claimed that they sustained past and future pecuniary loss, loss of companionship and society and mental anguish. Plaintiffs' counsel asked the jury to find $7.4 million for actual damages and $11.2 million for punitives. The defense did not dispute that Dickson's mesothelioma was caused by asbestos exposure.
The jury found by clear and convincing evidence that the harm to Dickson was proximately caused by Bell Helicopter's gross negligence. The jury awarded $8.8 million (actual damages of $1 million and punitive damages of $7.8 million). The jury apportioned the punitives, giving 55 percent to the widow and 15 percent to each adult child. Actual damages are not recoverable, and punitive damages are capped at $1.25 million. (The cap is an amount equal to two times the economic damages, plus the noneconomic damages up to $750,000.)
Daryl W. Dickson: $65,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $65,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $20,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $1,170,000 Wrongful Death: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $25,000 Wrongful Death: past pecuniary loss; $25,000 Wrongful Death: future pecuniary loss; Randall C. Dickson: $65,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $65,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $20,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $1,170,000 Wrongful Death: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $25,000 Wrongful Death: past pecuniary loss; $25,000 Wrongful Death: future pecuniary loss; Shirley Dickson$130,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $130,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $40,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $4,290,000 Wrongful Death: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $50,000 Wrongful Death: past pecuniary loss; $50,000 Wrongful Death: future pecuniary loss; Deanna K. Boaz Kizer: $65,000 Wrongful Death: Past Loss Of Society Companionship; $65,000 Wrongful Death: Future Loss Of Society Companionship; $20,000 Wrongful Death: Past Mental Anguish; $1,170,000 Wrongful Death: Punitive Exemplary Damages; $25,000 Wrongful Death: past pecuniary loss; $25,000 Wrongful Death: future pecuniary loss
This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs' and defense counsel.