CINCINNATI -- A federal appeals court Thursday approved a $2.3 million verdict against bankrupt Johns-Manville Corp. despite complaints such awards 'will surely annihilate the company.'
The 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed a jury's decision that Johns-Manville pay $1.5 million in punitive damages and $800,000 in compensatory damages to the widow of a boilermaker who died of lung cancer caused by Johns-Manville asbestos insulation.
The court said Johns-Manville had argued 'with some force' that it is also involved in a large number of other suits 'and that punitive awards of the magnitude (of this one) will surely annihilate the company.'
But the judges were not sympathetic with Johns-Manville.
'This court is aware that a $1.5 million punitive damage award will increase the difficulty that Johns-Manville faces in attempting a Chapter 11 (bankruptcy) reorganization,' said the court.
'(But) this court is also aware that there is evidence which suggests that Johns-Manville knew of the tremendous health hazards certain of its products represented and for some 12 or 13 years refused to even warn the users of these products of the health hazards.'
The $2.3 million was awarded to Mary Cavett of Knoxville, Tenn., widow of James Cavett, who had testified that dust caused by asbestos insulation was so bad it looked like 'someone dumped a barrel of flour on you.' Doctors testified that asbestos caused Cavett's terminal lung cancer.
Cavett's attorney, Paul T. Gillenwater of Knoxville, said he didn't consider the $2.3 million verdict against Johns-Manville to be excessive.
'I can have no sympathy for Johns-Manville,' he said. 'They knew the product they were making was dangerous and could kill people. But they kept making it and kept making huge profits.
'I hope this kind of an award will serve as a deterrent to other companies. I hope it sends them the message that the American people will not tolerate the manufacture of products dangerous to their health.'
Gillenwater noted that Mrs. Cavett 'hasn't yet received a penny' from Johns-Manville because of the court appeals.
Gillenwater also criticized Johns-Manville's reorganization attempts in bankruptcy court.
'They're no more bankrupt than the man in the moon,' he said. 'You should see how much money they're paying their lawyers. And they don't want to pay the widows of the people they killed.'