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40-year-old English Professor Wins $27.5 Million in Rare Secondhand Asbestos Case
40-year-old English Professor Wins $27.5 Million in Rare Secondhand Asbestos Case

A Cleveland, Ohio, instructor has won $27.5 million in a lawsuit claiming that he contracted mesothelioma after coming into contact with asbestos on his father’s work clothes.  Doctors diagnosed John Panza, Jr., 40, with mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer, in 2012.  His father died in 1994 from lung cancer after working at Eaton Airflex brake company for 31 years.

The $27.5 million verdict is believed to be the largest of its kind in Ohio.  The jury awarded Panza $515,000 in economic damages and $12 million in non-economic damages. His wife, Jane Panza, was awarded $15 million for loss of consortium for a total award of $27,515,000.The only defendant at trial, Kelsey-Hayes Company, successor to National Friction Products Corp., was found 60% liable. The verdict was handed down on December 18, 2013.

[sws_yellow_box box_size="550" box_align="right"]Get legal news for consumers delivered into your email inbox by subscribing with the form on the right side of the screen. [/sws_yellow_box]Gary Paul, partner at Waters, Kraus & Paul in San Francisco and lead trial attorney for the Panzas, said “I am so proud to represent John and his wife Jane. True justice happened today.”   Paul was assisted by Demetrious Zacharapolous, also an attorney at Waters, Kraus & Paul.

Attorney John Mismas, who served as local counsel, says “I’m just happy for the family.  Which for me, it’s not about me winning this award.  It’s not about the money for me.”

John Panza, Jr., an English instructor at Cuyahoga Community College, has undergone four separate surgeries, including the removal of his right lung.  The plant where his father worked from 1963 to 1993, owned by the former National Friction Products Corp., manufactured brake pads which contained asbestos. Panza’s father regularly came home covered in the cancer-causing material after working in the receiving and shipping department. He delivered materials all over the plant and was a frequent bystander to other employees who drilled and abraded National Friction products, which released asbestos.

The jury assigned 60 percent of the liability to Kelsey-Hayes, after finding that the brake pads made at the factory were defective and were the primary cause of Panza’s cancer.  40 percent of the liability was assigned to Eaton Airflex, which was protected from liability under Ohio law.  Kelsey-Hayes will be held responsible for the damages, and is expected to appeal the verdict.  There will be a second trial at a later date set by the court with a different jury to determine whether punitive damages should be awarded and in what amount.

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