After a week of hearings, Superior Court Judge Ana Viscomi issued her ruling today, awarding the families $90.5 million, to be paid by Anova Holding, AG, and Becon, AG, the companies that supplied asbestos to Johns Manville from the 1950’s into the 1980’s, according to attorney Lea Kagan with Levy Konigsberg, one of two law firms that represented the families. The other was Szaferman Lakind. Kagan said the lawsuits stem from the mesolthelioma-related deaths of 11 people, including a mother and daughter. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer of the lungs that is linked to asbestos exposure.
She said the lawsuits were filed between 2008 and 2011, but the legal process lasted as long as it did because the two defendant companies are foreign. Both are based in Switzerland.Kagan said neither Anova nor Becon appeared or answered the complaints filed against them. She said the families sought and obtained default judgments against the companies, leading to hearings in New Brunswick to determine damages.
Kagan said the judge rendered her decision today after hearing testimony from family members and others, beginning June 20.“Our clients are grateful that their call for justice for their loved ones was answered,” the attorney said. The awards ranged from $4 million for the late Virginia Stansley, who died in 2009 at age 81, to $15 million for John Ketchum, whose wife, Deborah Ann died in November 2009, at 49 years old.
Several of the victims, including Ketchum, Stansley, her daughter, Patricia Lindsay, 58, Donald Greene, 70, Sharon Durlester, 54, and Louise Upshaw, 63, did not work at Johns Manville, but family members—with whom they lived—did. The family members brought asbestos into the homes on their clothing.Other victims such as Peter Danysh, 64, Francis DiTolvo, 63, Rose Koshinsky, 78, Francis Swinick, 64, and Paul Troth, 76, all worked at Johns Manville.
Anova and Becon are successor companies to the Eternit group, which mined asbestos in South Africa and sold it throughout the world, including to the Johns Manville Company, the nationally-known maker of insulation that included asbestos. Johns Manville was headquartered in Somerset County at one time. Asbestos was used in everything from brake linings to ceiling tiles because of its fireproofing and insulating capabilities, but medical studies linked exposure to asbestos to lung disease and mesothelioma in the 1960s. Lawsuits quickly followed.
For many years, New Jersey was the hub of asbestos litigation. By 1982, with more than 16,000 lawsuits pending against Johns Manville, the Manville company filed for bankruptcy protection. Thousands of other companies that once sold or distributed asbestos products also have been named in lawsuits in New Jersey and around the country.Most, if not all, of the asbestos cases in New Jersey are heard in Middlesex County, one of three counties that handle mass tort- or class action-type lawsuits.
In 2005, a jury in Middlesex County awarded a Hawthorne man, who was dying of mesothelioma at the time, and his wife $10 million. The victim, William Rhodes, was a boiler repairman and used parts insulated with asbestos to repair boilers, according to testimony during the lawsuit’s week-long trial.
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