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Asbestos Death Reaps $1.5M Verdict

Fri, 10/23/2009 - 4:24am

MARSHALLTOWN, Iowa & ST. LOUIS (BUSINESS WIRE) — The New York law firm of Belluck & Fox has obtained a $1.5 million verdict and punitive damages of $750,000 against Fisher Controls International following the death of a worker at Hooker Chemical in Buffalo, New York, who was exposed to asbestos on the job.

The verdicts in Estate of Ronald Drabczyk, Index No. I 2005/1583, were rendered on October 19 and 20 in Erie County Court in Buffalo, New York. Judge John Lane presided.

Fisher Controls, based in Marshalltown, Iowa, is a subsidiary of Emerson Electric Co., based in St. Louis, MO. Emerson is a publicly-traded company on the New York Stock Exchange under the symbol EMR.

Belluck & Fox represented the family of Ronald Drabczyk, a factory worker at a chemical plant in Niagara Falls, NY. Drabczyk died from mesothelioma, a form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos. Drabczyk repaired valves manufactured by Fisher Controls which contained asbestos gaskets and packing. The valves were sold by Fisher to the Hooker plant where Drabczyk overhauled them from 1970-1988. The evidence at trial demonstrated that Fisher was aware of the dangers of asbestos as early as 1946 but failed to place any warning on its products.

In addition to awarding Drabczyk’s estate $1.5 million in damages, the jury found that Fisher Controls acted negligently in failing to warn of the dangers associated with the valves. It found that Fisher Controls was responsible for five percent of the fault associated with his exposure and that the exposure to the valves was a substantial contributing factor in causing Drabczyk's mesothelioma. Further, the jury found that Fisher Controls acted with reckless disregard for the safety of Drabczyk. Under New York law, this finding of reckless disregard renders Fisher Controls responsible for the entire verdict, minus a set-off for prior settlements.

This is the first instance that Fisher Controls has been found liable for using asbestos in its products.

The jury also awarded $750,000 in punitive damages, finding that Fisher Controls acted with wanton and reckless manners toward Drabczyk and others. This is the first punitive damage award in an asbestos case in New York State in more than 20 years.

The case was tried by Belluck & Fox partner Jordan Fox and Michael P. Joyce of the Law Office of Michael P. Joyce in Boston, MA. The law firm of Lipsitz, Green, Scime Cambria, based in Buffalo, New York, served as co-counsel in the case. The trial lasted six weeks.

"The jury's verdict confirms that this corporation acted in a negligent and reckless manner in selling its valves without ever warning of the dangers associated with the asbestos-containing products used in these valves," Fox said. "The punitive damage verdict underscores that corporations have a duty to workers to protect them from hazards known or knowable regarding their products. The jury held Fisher Controls accountable for the fatal consequences of its actions. Although we cannot bring Mr. Drabczyk back, we hope that this verdict will send a message that these actions will not be tolerated."

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