Goebel v. Ford Motor Company
2009 – Daily Journal; Verdicts & Settlements
LOS ANGELES—In an unusual win, a Los Angeles, jury on Monday awarded a verdict in favor of Ford Motor Co. and two other defendants in a wrongful death asbestos case worth about $25 million in damages.
The surviving spouse and sons of William Goebel, a 78-year-old maintenance man who died of pleural mesothelioma in September 2008, alleged that Ford, heavy-duty , truck manufacturer Daimler Trucks North America and Kaiser Gypsum Inc., which makes drywall products, were responsible for Goebel's fatal illness because their products contained asbestos.
However, attorneys for the companies argued throughout the six week trial in Los Angeles County Superior Court that Goebel's mesothelioma stemmed from his exposure to the amosite asbestos in 31 tons of insulation aboard the USS Porterfield, where he served in the U.S, Navy during the early 1950s.
Citing reports by medical experts, Daimler Trucks' lawyer Charles Osthimer said amosite asbestos fiber is far more hazardous than the chrysotile asbestos found .in the brake pads, clutches and other products the three defendants produced.
He and the other defense attorneys were able to persuade the jury that their clients' products weren't toxic enough to connect them to Goebel's illness.
"I would say more often than not plaintiffs prevail in asbestos litigation," said Osthimer, a shareholder at LeClairRyan in San Francisco. "I was pleased the jury found in favor of our clients."
Such a verdict is unusual because many asbestos defendants fear the risks of taking these cases to trial so much that they settle early even if they believe they aren't liable, said Ford's attorney James J Yukevich, founding partner of Yukevich Calfo & Cavanaugh.
"If defendants in these cases took a few more of them to verdict, the asbestos docket would become a lot more clear," he said.
Gary M. Paul, a partner in Waters & Kraus's Los Angeles office, argued on behalf of the Goebels. He could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
The trial began in October with eight defendants. Five of them settled before the verdict for more than $2 million, Yukevich said.
Kaiser Gypsum's attorney John Katerndahl, of Hassard Bonnington's Los Angeles, office, said trying the case all the way to the end was a smart move because the jury wanted proof of who was at fault.
"The battle in these cases where there's been a lot of naval exposure and also exposure in brake pads is that brake mechanics don't tend to get the, disease Mr. Goebel had," Yukevich said. "His exposure to the products Ford made was so small in comparison. The jury made the right decision that there was no defect."