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Ex-Plumber: Asbestos-Laden Packing Caused Cancer

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Wysocki v. John Crane Inc.



$2.15M Verdict

Date of Verdict: Dec. 19, 2018.

Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 161002888



Judge: Michael E. Erdos.

Type of Action: Toxic torts, products liability.

Injuries: Radiation burns.

Plaintiffs Counsel: Casey R. Coburn and Richard P. Hackman, Nass Cancelliere Brenner, Philadelphia.

Plaintiffs Experts: Brian S. Wojciechowski, oncology; Wynnewood; Arthur L. Frank, occupational medicine; Philadelphia; Steven P. Compton, materials science; Duluth, Georgia.

Defense Counsel: Tiffany F. Turner; Dickie, McCamey & Chilcote, Philadelphia, Timothy D. Rau, Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C.; Philadelphia; Daniel R. Griffin; O'Connell, Tivin, Griffin & Burns, Chicago.

Defense Experts: David S. Prince, pulmonology; Bryn Mawr; Steven R. Peikin gastroenterology; Mount Laurel, New Jersey. 



Comment:

In April 2014, plaintiff Timothy Wysocki, 64, a plumber and pipe fitter, was diagnosed with colorectal cancer. He claimed that the cancer stemmed from his work with packing manufactured and supplied by John Crane Inc. and J.A. Sexauer Manufacturing Co. from the mid-1970s to the early 1980s.

Wysocki sued John Crane Inc, J.A. Sexauer, Amitco, Weil McClain Co and numerous other companies. He alleged various claims under products and strict liability, including design defect and failure to warn.

Claims against numerous defendants were dismissed or concluded via dispositions involving undisclosed terms, prior to trial. Meanwhile, Amtico, a floor-tile manufacturer, and Weil McLain, a maker of boilers, remained on the verdict slip at the request of John Crane and J.A. Sexauer.

Wysocki alleged that he began working with or around packing manufactured and supplied by John Crane and J.A. Sexauer, from 1974 to 1982, during his career has a plumber and pipe fitter in both residential and commercial settings. Wysocki installed, handled, cut, removed, trimmed and cleaned up asbestos-containing packing.

Wysocki's expert in microscopy and materials science, in testing the defendants' packing, determined that the packing released airborne fibers into an individual's breathing zone that could be ingested and inhaled.

Wysocki's counsel argued that John Crane and J.A. Sexauer failed to warn users of the hazardous effects of its asbestos-containing packing because there were no warnings on the packing materials.

John Crane and J.A. Sexauer did not dispute that their products lacked warnings. The defendants also did not dispute Wysocki's allegation that its packing released respirable fibers.

Wysocki's cancer was diagnosed during a routine colonoscopy. Following the diagnosis, Wysocki underwent four years of chemotherapy, totaling over one thousand hours of treatment, as well as radiation treatment.

In 2016, during an attempt to remove a cancerous part of Wysocki's colon, it was discovered that the cancer had spread through the colon wall and into lymph nodes. The colon resection was abandoned because metastatic disease was discovered during the surgery.

In 2017, despite his treatments, the tumor grew, pressing on his urethra and causing kidney disease. This resulted in permanent bilateral stents and the use of a catheter whenever Wysocki urinates.

In October 2018, despite years of treatment, Wysocki's cancer continued to spread, and it was discovered that the cancer had metastasized to his abdomen and lungs.

Wysocki's experts in occupational medicine and oncology testified that Wysocki's colorectal cancer was directly caused by his exposure to asbestos-containing packing. His expert in oncology cited a number of medical studies and reports that support the link between colorectal cancer and asbestos exposure. The expert opined that Wysocki had only a few months to live.

Wysocki testified that he is in chronic pain. He is unable to sit for long periods, due to rectal pain, and when he does, he uses a seat pillow. Wysocki discussed the pain associated with the chemotherapy and radiation treatment, including burn spots on his chest from the radiation. He also discussed how he developed neuropathy in his hands and feet, resulting in numbness and tingling. Due to the neuropathy, he is unable to hold objects in his hands, like utensils, and is prevented from driving. He sought damages for past and future pain and suffering.

Wysocki's wife of 39 years discussed his condition and how their life has been permanently altered. She had to retire two years early as a second-grade teacher in order to be Wysocki's full-time care giver. Due to his impaired bladder, the couple is unable to leave their house for an extended period of time, and if they do, they have to be near a bathroom. Wysocki's wife also discussed how they have to hire individuals to perform household duties, including mowing their lawn and maintaining their house's heating system. She sought damages for her claim for loss of consortium.

The defense's expert in gastroenterology opined that asbestos exposure can never cause colorectal cancer. The expert attributed Wysocki's cancer to his age and his being overweight. The expert noted that, during a routine colonoscopy at age 59, a polyp was found, even though it was non-malignant. The expert faulted Wysocki for waiting five years until undergoing his next colonoscopy, instead of undergoing it in three years. Wysocki testified that his physician instructed him to have a subsequent colonoscopy in five years.

The defense's expert in pulmonology testified that asbestos exposure does not cause colorectal cancer. The expert cited how Wysocki did not suffer from lung cancer, the most common type of cancer associated with asbestos exposure. The expert disputed that medical literature and studies supported the link between asbestos exposure and colorectal cancer.

The jury found that Wysocki's exposure to asbestos was a factual cause of his colon cancer and that he was exposed to asbestos fibers from John Crane and J.A. Sexauer's products. According to jurors, John Crane and J.A. Sexauer's products were defective in that they lacked an adequate warning or other instruction necessary to make them reasonably safe for their intended use. No liability was found against Amtico and Weil McLain. Wysocki and his wife were determined to receive $2.15 million.

This report is based on information that was provided by plaintiffs counsel. Defense counsel did not respond to calls for comment. The other defendants were not asked to contribute.

—This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication.