KG attorneys Jeffrey Kaiser, Lawrence Gornick and David Markevitch represented the family of Mark Lopez at trial against Hillshire Brands Co. On August 16, 2017, the jury found the company liable for causing Lopez’s death from mesothelioma and awarded $13 million in damages.

The Union Sugar Plant, which was owned by Hillshire Brands Co., was active in the small town of Betteravia, where Lopez grew up from 1954 until the mid-1960’s. Now a ghost town, Betteravia was once a small town in California populated mostly by the Union Sugar Plant workers and their families. The plant was most active in the 1950’s, and although Lopez did not work in the plant, his father and grandfather did. While the Hillshire Brands Co. says the asbestos in the plant was contained, evidence shows employees routinely working with asbestos without taking proper safety precautions, resulting in the contamination of the surrounding area and homes.

Twice a year the plant workers closed the plant to remove asbestos from pipes and other areas, sometimes feeding it through an electric grinder to be reused as stucco. This process is highly dangerous and released unhealthy amounts of asbestos into the air, exposing anyone in the near vicinity to deadly asbestos fibers. Asbestos cleaned from the plant was also removed to a dump site nearby, where many children, including Mark Lopez, often played.

Even though Mark and his family moved away from Betteravia in the 1960’s, the asbestos he was exposed to could still have continued to take root. Asbestos can remain in the lungs for years, and can slowly develop into Mesothelioma, a deadly and incurable cancer. Mark Lopez was diagnosed with Mesothelioma and filed the lawsuit against Hillshire Brands Co., but died at age 61 before he was able to see the verdict. However, his family carried on the lawsuit, and received compensation after the Alameda County civil jury found Hillshire Brands Co. completely liable.

While Hillshire Brands Co. claims they were never negligent in their practices, Attorney Kaiser says the plant did not properly inspect the sugar refinery and failed to make the environment safe for workers. Even before Mark Lopez’s birth, there was medical evidence to show the hazards of asbestos exposure. Attorney Kaiser proclaims the company should have exhibited more care in protecting workers and nearby citizens from any unnecessary contact with the hazardous material.

Hillshire Brands Co. failed to ensure that the Union Sugar Plant used and disposed of asbestos products safely. The company should have contacted the appropriate safety experts and medical personnel, but failed to understand the state and federal safety regulations associated with asbestos in the workplace.

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