Virginia Court Strikes Blow for Justice in Asbestos Case

Last week, the Virginia Supreme Court rejected an appeal filed by John Crane, Inc., and upheld a lower court judgment in the amount of $3.4 million. The suit was filed against John Crane by the family of the late Garland F. Jones, Jr., a former employee of the Newport News Shipbuilding Company. Jones died of mesothelioma in 2005. His widow, Wanda T. Jones, was determined to see that justice was done. Shortly after Garland Jones’ death, the jury in the original trial awarded his family $10.4 million in compensatory and punitive damages, issuing the judgment against three defendants: the Johns-Manville Corporation, Garlock Sealing Technologies, and John Crane, Inc. The other two defendants had reached their own settlements with the plaintiffs for lower amounts prior to delivery of the verdict. John Crane appealed the decision partially on the grounds that the judge had tried the case under maritime law, which has a lower burden of proof, allowing a better chance for victims to recover damages, rather than state law. However, legally, state and federal courts are authorized to allow cases to proceed under maritime law.

The appellate jury agreed with the decision made by the lower court. The award may indeed be the largest such award in the legal history of Virginia. The late Garland Jones was employed at the shipbuilding company between 1963 and 1967. Asbestos and asbestos-containing products, such as those manufactured by the three defendants, were commonly used in shipbuilding between the mid 1930s and 1980. His widow Wanda died of an unrelated cancer earlier this summer. The settlement, minus $100,000 spent for expert testimony at the trial, is to be divided between the three surviving adult children and the law firm that represented them. Ansley Jones-Higginbotham and her two siblings will receive just over $700,000 each. John Crane may still appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court, which since 2004 has favored large corporate interests, but which may not take time to hear the case, or seek a new hearing by the Virginia Supreme Court.