An Alameda County jury has awarded $6.5 million to a Kansas woman dying of cancer, saying that her illness is the result of childhood exposure to asbestos that her parents carried from their shipyard job in the 1940s to their then-San Bruno home.
The eight-woman, four-man Oakland jury decided Tuesday after a five-week trial that USX Corp. of Pittsburgh was liable for negligence and should pay compensatory damages to Jeanette Franklin, 61, who last year was told she had cancer.
Franklin's attorneys argued that her parents, who worked during World War II at a South San Francisco shipyard, brought asbestos dust and fibers home on their clothing and bodies.
The verdict, believed to be the largest in Northern California involving claims of harm from secondhand asbestos, evoked a mixed reaction yesterday from Franklin.
``I am very pleased with what the jury decision was,'' Franklin said from her home in Osawatomie, Kan. ``However, it does leave that double-edged sword for me and my family. I'm still sitting here facing death and dying.''
John Drath, whose Oakland firm helped represent USX, the country's largest producer of steel products, said he plans to appeal on the ground that errors were made in a number of rulings during the trial.
Franklin's parents had worked for Western Pipe and Steel, a predecessor of USX. Vern Harnish was a welder and died of a heart attack. Opal Harnish, now 82, was a carpenter.
The jury, which deliberated for five days, found that Franklin developed mesothelioma, a cancer of the lining of the lungs or the abdominal cavity, after being exposed -- from age 4 to 7 -- to asbestos carried by her parents into their former home on Mills Avenue in San Bruno.
USX was negligent and its negligence caused Franklin's cancer, the jury found after a trial before Superior Court Judge Richard Hodge.
``The lesson here is that employers have a responsibility and obligation of finding out not only what deadly things exist on their products but who might be at harm whether it be their own workers or their families,'' said Oakland attorney Simona Farrise, who represented Franklin.
But Drath said the dangers associated with dust or fibers brought home were not fully known during World War II. ``In the 1940s, no one had any understanding that dust on clothing presented any kind of risk for family members,'' Drath said. ``That was an evolving science.''
Franklin's mesothelioma has attacked both her lungs and her abdominal cavity. Nearly all cases of mesothelioma are caused by asbestos exposure, with symptoms often not appearing until 20 to 30 years after exposure.
Although lawsuits involving shipyard workers directly exposed to asbestos from boilers, wall insulation, turbines and pumps are quite common, a growing number of cases involve plaintiffs who report being exposed to the carcinogenic dust secondhand, Farrise said.
Franklin said she hopes the verdict will prompt ``giant corporations'' to protect their employees. ``I think it's high time the big boys figure out they have to take care of the little guys,'' she said.
SF Gate 3/23/00