The S.S. Berkeley Victory was one of 534 “Victory” ships that succeeded the famous “Liberty” ships of World War II. These were essentially an upgrade of the previous design: like the Liberty Ships, they could be built quickly. However, the Victory Ship had a sturdier hull and more powerful engines that enabled them to outrun enemy submarines.
The Berkeley Victory was built in under two months at the Kaiser Shipyard in Richmond, California and launched on New Year's Eve 1944.
After the war, many of these Victory ships were sold to private shipping companies and even cruise lines.
Asbestos poisoning is a real danger for those who served in the maritime services or aboard any type of sea-going vessel built prior to 1980. By that time, asbestos insulation had been used as a flame retardant for many decades, but particularly after 1935. The year before, a cruise ship named the S.S. Morro Castle caught fire off the coast of New Jersey; 137 people aboard perished. This tragedy led to Congressional legislation requiring ship builders to use asbestos insulation through a vessel's construction.
Asbestos product manufacturers had become well aware of the health hazards of asbestos by the late 1930s. However, in order to guard their profitability, the major players in the asbestos industry – W.R. Grace, Johns-Manville, Raysbestos and others – conspired to suppress the information while spreading disinformation about their product. As a result, when the U.S. government finally issued advisories to war plant and shipyard workers in 1943, the warnings were not taken seriously. As a result mesothelioma navy cases are most prevalent among the armed forces.
Finally, in 1977, the plaintiff's lawyer in an asbestos lawsuit discovered documents in the CEO's office at Raysbestos that proved the existence of the forty-year conspiracy. Limited asbestos litigation had gone on before, of course; the first such trial was in 1966. However, lawyers for the defense in these cases always argued that their clients had had no knowledge of asbestos hazards and therefore could not be held liable.
Asbestos disease has a very lengthy latency period; signs of cancers such as mesothelioma are often not apparent until several decades after initial exposure to asbestos. Diagnosis has historically been difficult, and proving that a specific asbestos product caused the disease is harder still. In order to successfully win an asbestos suit, it is necessary to have a solid diagnosis of malignant mesothelioma from a qualified oncologist as well as a thorough employment history that includes vessels aboard which one worked, served or traveled and which products were used.
Asbestos litigation is extremely complex, but a litigator with experience in this area is most likely to win a settlement, as these lawyers have access to decades worth of information regarding asbestos job sites, products and manufacturers.Sources
Bowker, Michael. Fatal Deception: The Terrifying True Story of How Asbestos is Killing America. New York: Touchstone, 2003.
Colton, Tim. "Victory Ships".