James had worked almost 30 years at the military installation known as Fort Monroe, from 1945 to about 1973. During that time he learned the trades of heating technician and boiler operator. Between 1960 and 1973 a large part of James' time was taken up with repairs and preventative maintenance of the boilers and heating equipment located throughout the buildings and residences in Fort Monroe. This involved working with asbestos which was used in the boiler gaskets, packing, rope and tape.
Many of the products that James used were made by John Crane. However, while the goods that the company produced contained asbestos, the company did not include any warnings of asbestos-related health hazards in its packaging, or in any way at all.
The dangers associated with asbestos exposure had become well known by the 1950s. Remarkably, however, there were no safety regulations in place regarding its use. So despite the fact that companies like John Crane knew about the health hazards, they did not take it upon themselves to set their own standards and do the right thing by issuing safety warnings about their products. Now they are paying the price, but it is far too late for so many of the people who came into contact with their products, or who worked around asbestos. They've paid the ultimate price.
James and many men like him worked with asbestos without having any protective gear, so they worked with the lethal substance using their bare hands and they inhaled the dust all day long, day in day out, without even knowing that they were at risk for developing asbestos mesothelioma.
During the trial for James, the materials that he would have worked with were tested. The results showed that the normal and foreseeable use of asbestos gasket and packing material definitely released levels of asbestos 'background material' thousands of times greater than anything that could be considered safe. Furthermore, the demonstrations showed that the asbestos products were friable after they were placed in service and subjected to heat and pressure.
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The Environmental Working Group Action Fund estimates that 10,000 people a year die from asbestos-caused diseases the United States, which includes one out of every 125 American men who die over the age of 50.
Unfortunately, James became an asbestos statistic. But his legacy is important, because ultimately, he won. The jury hearing his case took just 8 hours to decide in his favor and against John Crane and company. The jury awarded $1.5 million dollars in compensatory damages, $197,789.83 in medical expenses, and $4,752.25 in funeral expenses, totalling $1,702,542.08 for the entire verdict.