U.S. Navy Machinist’s Mate Awarded $12.1 Million in 1960s Asbestos-Exposure Case

LOS ANGELES, California: During a single tour of duty, a United States Navy serviceman was exposed to asbestos in the early 1960s and has now been awarded $12.1 million by a LA County jury. Charles H. Cundiff, a 66-year-old retired truck driver, was exposed to asbestos while in the service and now is terminally ill with malignant pleural mesothelioma. Mesothelioma’s only known cause is asbestos exposure. Early diagnosis of mesothelioma cancer increases the amount of effective treatments. Unfortunately, due to the way it forms, the cancer may not manifest until anywhere between 20 to 50 years after an asbestos exposure, which often limits the types of treatments available. Asbestos is a kind of fiber present in many of the insulating and building materials used on ships, and is naked to the human eye. Mr. Cundiff’s exposure occurred during his time as a machinist’s mate aboard the USS Kitty Hawk from 1962 to 1966. On May 6, the verdict was announced after five days of jury deliberation. $10 million was awarded to Mr. Cundiff for pain and suffering and $506,000 in economic damages for lost wages. His wife, Glenda Joyce Cundiff, was awarded $1.5 million for loss of consortium. John Crane, Inc. and supplier Lone Star Industries were found liable for both defective products and failure to warn or make those who would work with it aware of the dangers. John Crane was assessed having 5% liability while Lone Star had 19 %. Lead trial attorney Gary M. Paul called the verdict notable, saying, “Today’s verdict, right on the heels of the Haupt verdict, demonstrates that the Taylor decision does not result in justice being denied to the asbestos-exposed plaintiff. On the contrary, the jury found fault with both manufacturer and supplier, and not just for defective product, but also for failure to warn. This demonstrates that a strong case with clear product ID can extend the scope of responsibility to all vendors in the supply chain, including third parties, who knowingly provide harmful products to unsuspecting consumers.” Mr. Cundiff was too ill to take the witness stand and his testimony was heard via deposition, in which he described his work in detail aboard the USS Kitty Hawk during his four year tour of duty which included a nine month overhaul in the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Duties included cleaning, repairing and replacing valves, gaskets, pumps, packings and the use of Insulag insulating cement in the No. 2 and 4 engine rooms. This generated large amounts of asbestos dust that was then inhaled due to lack of protection. The defense tried to negate Mr. Cundiff by stating that Insulag was not used in the overhaul of the Kitty Hawk, and was additionally not among the approved products that appeared on the Qualified Products List. The testimony contradicted the defense. Defense expert Thomas McCaffrey admitted that there was no DoD Qualified Products List that existed during those years. Another who testified did not know Mr. Cundiff but corroborated the use of Insulag.