Bloomington, McLean County, Illinois - On March 11, 2011, a jury awarded Charles Gillenwater, 59, $90 million in compensation in a landmark asbestos case. Gillenwater accused four companies – Honeywell International, Inc., Pneumo Abex, John Crane Inc. and Owens-Illinois, Inc. – of conspiring to cover up the potential danger and health risks associated with asbestos exposure.
In the initial 5 week trial, the jury awarded Gillenwater $9.6 million in compensatory damages against Honeywell International, Inc., Pneumo Abex, Owens-Illinois Inc., and John Crane, Inc. Gillenwater was also awarded $20 million in punitive damages against Honeywell, Pneumo Abex and $40 million against Owens-Illinois.
The compensatory and punitive awards were based off of the jury's findings that all of the defendants did conspire to hide and suppress the dangers of asbestos and asbestos exposure.
In the 1970s, Gillenwater worked as a pipe fitter and claimed that he was exposed to asbestos while working at different sites. From this exposure, Gillenwater claimed he developed mesothelioma, a rare, yet deadly form of cancer linked to asbestos exposure. Typically associated with asbestos exposure through inhalation, tiny asbestos particles embed into the protective lining surrounding the lungs, heart and abdominal cavity, causing mesothelioma cancer to develop.
Due to the nature of the disease, mesothelioma may take upwards of 30 to 40 years after asbestos exposure to detect. By the time the cancer is discovered, it often too advanced for conventional treatment options. At this time, there is no cure for mesothelioma and is often fatal.
On August 31, a judge in McLean County, Illinois overturned Owens-Illinois' $40 million portion of the $90 million settlement. Owens-Illinois claimed that they did not misrepresent or hide the potential health hazards of asbestos exposure.
Further, the judge also overturned $9.6 million of compensatory damages from the other remaining companies.
In a released statement on the ruling, Owens-Illinois is “pleased” with the outcome. “The ruling is consistent with O-I's [Owens-Illinois'] position that it did not conspire with anyone concerning asbestos health hazards.”
This ruling is subject to appeal, and at this time, it is unclear whether Gillenwater will pursue that course.