SoCal Jury Orders N.J. Firm to Pay $5.2 Million in Asbestos Case

June 4, 2007

A Los Angeles jury has ordered a New Jersey engineering and construction firm to pay $5.2 million in an asbestos exposure case, determining the company acted with malice.

The verdict in Los Angeles County Superior Court ordered Foster Wheeler Corp. to pay the survivors of Richard Walmach, a career naval machinist who died in 2006 after being diagnosed with mesothelioma, a cancer related to asbestos exposure.

Walmach died after filing the suit, which claimed the company failed to disclose asbestos risks. The company is a longtime supplier of boilers, steam generators and other power equipment to the U.S. Navy.

The firm has faced 20 other asbestos-related suits and been found liable for $100 million in general damages, but this was the first time it was ordered to pay punitive damages, said lead plaintiff’s attorney Sean P. Tracey.

Of the $5.2 million total award, $2 million was for punitive damages. An attorney for Foster Wheeler said a motion was pending before the judge challenging jurisdiction to award punitive damages.

The trial took place in Los Angeles since several defendants have headquarters there, said Kevin M. Loew, another plaintiff’s attorney. The original lawsuit named 21 companies, with all except Foster Wheeler reaching confidential settlements before trial, Loew said.

Walmach spent most of his 37-year career at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, where workers used jackhammers to remove asbestos-packed insulation from Foster Wheeler boilers. He also worked at the Long beach Naval Shipyard when asbestos was being removed there in the 1960s.

Foster Wheeler has nominal headquarters in Bermuda and operational headquarters in Clinton, N.J.

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