Legislation & Litigation

Jury Awards $22 million from Goodyear to New York Families of Two Smokers in Asbestos Lawsuit

Written By:
Jul 07, 2011
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
July 7, 2011

Eugene McCarthy may have smoked two to three packs of cigarettes a day for more than 20 years, but that was not the only thing that led to the lung cancer that killed him.

Asbestos played a role, too.

McCarthy was one of two smokers whose families were awarded a combined $22 million in damages last month from Goodyear Tire and Rubber and Goodyear Canada stemming from their job-site exposure to asbestos-laced gaskets produced by the companies.

A New York State Supreme Court jury found Goodyear at least partially responsible for the deaths of the two men in 1998 after they worked in different parts of the state. The families filed separate lawsuits shortly after the deaths, but the court combined the similar cases, both of which were handled by the Weitz & Luxenberg law firm.

The second plaintiff was Walter Koczur, another smoker whose family was awarded $13.5 million. McCarthy’s family was awarded $8.5 million in damages, a smaller amount based on what percentage of his cancer was related to asbestos, according to the jury.

Neither McCarthy nor Koczur worked for Goodyear, but both men showed that they handled gaskets produced by the company in their lines of work. That exposure was enough to sway a jury despite the men’s smoking habits.

“It took 13 years for justice to be done. That’s a long time for the family to wait,” said Mike Fanelli, one of the attorneys who handled the case for Weitz & Luxenberg.  “But this is significant, especially for smokers.”

In a statement, Goodyear said it would appeal the verdict. This is the first time in recent years that Goodyear took an asbestos-related case to trial. The company settled previous asbestos cases before trial.

The two families already had settled with other companies involving their asbestos exposure.

Koczur was a steamfitter in the Buffalo, New York, area who worked at different sites, including Ashland Oil and Republic Steel. For a short time, son Kenneth Koczur worked alongside him. Kenneth testified at trial about his father’s early 1970s exposure to gaskets made by Goodyear.

McCarthy worked at the neighboring Niagara Power Project and was exposed to similar gaskets within various pumps, valves and boilers. One of his co-workers from 30 years before testified at the trial last month on his behalf.

The jury decided that Goodyear and Goodyear Canada was liable for 45 percent of Koczur’s lung cancer and 12 percent of McCarthy’s cancer.

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