Los Angeles Jury Rejects $8.2 Million Demand Claim In Living Mesothelioma Case, Finds No Dangerous Condition Existed at LADWP Power Plant
In a closely watched case, a 12-person jury returned a complete defense verdict late Tuesday afternoon in favor of the City of Los Angeles Department of Water and Power ("LADWP") after determining that its Scattergood Generating Station in El Segundo, California, did not present a dangerous condition, despite Plaintiff's claim that he was exposed to asbestos dust from calcium silicate pipe insulation known as Kaylo 10. The case was granted trial preference in April and pushed to trial on an expedited schedule due to Plaintiff's confirmed diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma and the possibility that he would not survive more than six months. WSHB partner Kevin D. Smith led the legal team representing the LADWP in the two week trial.
In 1975, plaintiff Rainer Best visited Scattergood Generating Station to assist the LADWP with the removal of several blades from a low pressure steam turbine that had been manufactured by his employer, Brown Boveri Corporation. In order to open the turbine and access the blades, a large steam pipe and the turbine shells first had to be disconnected, which necessarily involved the handling of thermal insulation around several flanges and access points. Mr. Best claimed that this process took about a day and a half, during which time he was exposed to asbestos-containing dust generated by the removal of the insulation.
During trial, Mr. Best contended that some of the insulation he witnessed being removed was asbestos-containing Kaylo 10, even though the turbines were not installed until two years after Owens Corning removed amosite and chrysotile from its Kaylo brand pipe and block insulation. Plaintiff's expert opined that the pipe insulation removal process could have generated an exposure between 5 to 40 fibers/cc, which was enough to be a substantial factor contributing to Mr. Best's risk of developing cancer, even though he was a bystander for only a short period of time.
In response, the LADWP defense team established that it was highly unlikely asbestos-containing insulation had been used during original construction of the turbines, which was supported by a disputed specification issued by the boiler contractor, the testimony of several employees, and the former testimony of a union insulator that worked on the original construction in 1974. Additionally, the calcium silicate pipe and block insulation had been extensively tested over the years, and asbestos has never been detected in any of the samples.
In closing arguments, Plaintiff's counsel requested a jury award of approximately $1.2 million in special damages and another $7 million in general damages. Ultimately, the jury found that Plaintiff failed to meet his burden of proof that the insulation products he saw removed over that day and a half in 1975 actually contained asbestos. As a result, the jury found that no dangerous condition existed and rendered a defense verdict in the LADWP's favor. The LADWP will now be filing post-trial motions to recover costs.