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Jury Awards $75 Million in Asbestos Case

November 10, 1987

WILMINGTON, Del. (AP) _ A jury decided Raymark Industries Inc. should pay $75 million in punitive damages to three couples who charged that the company conspired to conceal or misrepresent the health hazards of asbestos.

The verdict Monday is believed to be the second largest in the nation, said Thomas C. Crumplar, one of the plaintiffs’ attorneys. He also said it was the first time in 15 years of asbestos litigation that a corporate defendant has been held liable for conspiracy.

Three former Du Pont Co. employees who worked for more than 25 years in and around asbestos at the company’s Newport Plant won the award, along with their wives.

The Superior Court jury found that Raymark, formerly Raybestos Manhattan Inc., of Trumbull, Conn., had conspired with the former Johns Manville Corp., now Manville Corp., to suppress information relating to the dangers of asbestos, and to place no warnings on its products.

Tens of thousands of lawsuits have been filed over the health effects of asbestos, which once was commonly used in theasbestos liability cases, but the U.S. Supreme Court on July 7, 1986, turned down their appeals without comment.

Partly as a result, the Reagan administration introduced a package of legislation intended to protect corporations and their insurers from devastating liability insurance payouts.

The welter of asbestos lawsuits caused the Manville Corp. in 1982 to file for reorganization under federal bankruptcy laws. And in April 1986 Raymark Corp. said it considered filing for protection from its creditors under bankruptcy laws as a result of an asbestos class-action lawsuit in Texas that it eventually settled by agreeing to pay 551 plaintiffs a total of $7.6 million.

Crumplar said he hoped the verdict Monday would lead Raymark to ″treat with some seriousness″ about 200 other asbestos cases pending against the company in Delaware. He said he would meet with Raymark representatives today to discuss settlements of those cases, as well as the case decided Monday.

Raymark chose to go through a trial while the three couples reached settlements with six other defendants, in which financial details have not been disclosed. Raymark has not said whether it will appeal.

The phase of the trial that ended Monday was held to establish liability and rule on the plaintiffs’ claims of conspiracy to cover up the dangers. In an earlier phase, the jury set compensatory damages on Oct. 16 at more than $1 million, supporting the three men’s claims that they contracted lung disorders linked to breathing asbestos fibers.

The men’s wives were granted damages for loss of consortium. The couples are William Kapp Jr., 55, and Sara Leigh Kapp, of Elkton, Md.; Joseph Kaster Sr., 71, and Sophie M. Kaster, of near Newport; and James Webb, 74, and Thelma K. Webb, of Newport.

Kapp worked at the Du Pont plant from 1951 to 1984, and was a mechanical supervisor. Kaster, a maintenance mechanic, was employed there from 1950 to 1980. Webb, a storeroom operator, worked at the plant from 1953 to 1978.

In what is believed to be the largest jury award, an Orange County, Calif., Superior Court jury awarded $127.8 million in damages in 1978 to a teen-ager who sued Ford Motor Co. over severe burns he received when the gas tank of his 1972 Pinto exploded.

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