An 85-year-old retired ship deckhand recently won a $1.45 million verdict against a ship owner in a mesothelioma lawsuit. The deckhand worked aboard the SS Seattle in 1966 for 67 days, during which he was exposed to asbestos fibers.
The deckhand continued to work on ships for decades and eventually retired to a quiet life of gardening and playing musical instruments with his wife. It was in retirement when the deckhand began to experience what he thought were increasingly worsening bouts of asthma. One day the retired deckhand collapsed in his garden and his life changed forever.
“I was out in my garden working and fell over, couldn’t breathe, and I crawled up on a pile of dirt and I pulled myself up,” the deckhand told Komo News.
After being rushed to the hospital, the man found out that his asthma was actually mesothelioma, a serious form of cancer caused by asbestos exposure. Doctors told him that his prognosis was poor and that he would die of mesothelioma within a few years.
“I will say it’s a psychological disaster to know that you have something that can’t be operated on, there’s no cure and you are going to die someday,” the deckhand said.
The deckhand successfully sued the successor-in-interest of the SS Seattle for the asbestos exposure that led to his mesothelioma. The deckhand’s lawsuit alleged that he was exposed to asbestos from the insulation of the SS Seattle, which he worked on as a messman for two months. Specifically, the deckhand hung his clothes to dry above the ship’s engine room, where they were covered with asbestos dust that was freely floating from disturbed equipment.
The ship owner alleged that it was unaware that asbestos was dangerous until several years after the deckhand worked on the ship. The deckhand pointed to medical literature dating back to 1930 indicating that asbestos exposure was dangerous and often deadly. British medical officials set forth asbestos exposure limits before World War II and the U.S. government enacted statutes for limiting asbestos in the 1950s. This put the ship owner on notice that it was potentially harming its employees by failing to mitigate the amount of asbestos used on the ship and was the primary reason the jury held the company liable.
The $1.45 million verdict serves to compensate the deckhand for the years of his life that he will lose due to his cancer and the pain he has to endure during his remaining time.
“It’s a slow, painful death,” the deckhand said of his mesothelioma. “It’s not like a heart attack.”
The deckhand’s wife says that she is also struggling to see the pain that her husband has to endure on a daily basis.
“I love Roger deeply, and I wish he didn’t have this disease,” she said. “We just don’t know what the next day is going to bring forth.”
The deckhand said that he plans to use some of the jury award for the inevitable hospice care he will need at the end of his life. He will leave the rest to his wife, five children and six grandchildren.
Source: Hammett v. Oglebay Norton Company, 2011 WL 7481283, Plaintiff’s Trial Brief, No. 11-2-12255-7 SEA; Vashon-Maury Island Beachcomber, “Islander with terminal cancer wins significant asbestos suit,” Natalie Johnson, Dec. 20, 2011