Buffalo, NY—The family of Ronald Drabczyk, a Niagara Falls chemical plant worker who died from the unusual asbestos cancer mesothelioma, has been awarded $1.5 million in damages and $750,000 in punitive damages by an Erie County jury. Drabczyk worked at Hooker Chemical in Buffalo, New York, overhauling valves which contained asbestos gaskets and packing, from 1970-1988. In the lawsuit, Drabczyk’s family accused the manufacturer of the valves, Marshalltown, Iowa’s Fisher Controls, of acting negligently in failing to warn workers of the dangers of asbestos materials contained within their products.
The jury found that Fisher Controls was responsible for five percent of the fault associated with Drabczyk’s exposure, and that the company acted with reckless disregard for his safety. Under New York State law, the finding of reckless disregard means that Fisher Controls is responsible for the entire verdict, minus a set-off for prior settlements. Evidence at the trial indicated that executives at Fisher Controls were aware of the dangers of asbestos as early as 1946, yet neglected to warn consumers or workers of the hazards of working with this mineral, and continued to use it in their products. Fisher Controls is a subsidiary of Emerson Electric Co., based in St. Louis, Missouri.
Asbestos, when it remains in place, is generally considered a safe product. When its fibers are damaged and released into the air, however, it becomes a carcinogen, and can be breathed in by workers. Once inside the lungs, the fibers contribute to the formation of tumors in a rare but very aggressive cancer known as mesothelioma. One of the unfortunate hallmarks of mesothelioma is that it may take decades to fully develop, and therefore become symptomatic, within the body. Most patients who are diagnosed with this terminal disease have only a few short months to live. This is the first award of punitive damages in a New York State asbestos-related case in over 20 years.