Park Water Asbestos Trial
The “take-home asbestos exposure trial” took 12 days for the Long Beach, California jury to reach a verdict. They found Liberty Utilities Corp., which was formerly Park Water and employer of Alfred’s father, guilty of negligence. Francisco Mata worked from 1970 to 1985 at Park Water, where he cut, installed and repaired asbestos-cement water pipes. Not once in those 15 years was Francisco aware of asbestos exposure and its dangers.
During the trial, plaintiffs’ attorneys demonstrated how Park Water (now Liberty Utilities) never told its employees that asbestos was dangerous. If they had provided proper safety measures, such as separate lockers for street and work clothing, Francisco and his co-workers likely would have been aware of the dangers. And Alfred would not have developed mesothelioma.
The jury found that Park Water violated both federal and state health and safety laws for more than a decade. Since 1971, the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA) has been protecting workers from the threat of asbestos. And between 1971 and 1994, OSHA issued two emergency temporary standards, three major notices of proposed rulemaking, three final rules, and 31 Federal Register notices related to asbestos. It was impossible for Park Water not to know the dangers of asbestos exposure and its link to asbestosis and mesothelioma – terminal cancer. Yet Francisco worked at Park Water until 1985. For 15 years, he brought asbestos-contaminated clothing home from work, and to his family. The jury also found that Park Water acted with malice in the treatment of its employees and their families.
Park Water and Liberty Utilities
Liberty Utilities purchased Park Water Company in January, 2016. According to the California Water Association, Park Water and its subsidiary, Apple Valley Ranchos Water Company (Apple Valley), served about 51,000 customer connections with more than 700 miles of distribution mains in southeast Los Angeles County, Apple Valley and Victorville. And Liberty Utilities is owner and operator of water utilities in Arizona, Arkansas, Illinois, Missouri and Texas and operates an electric utility in California that serves the Lake Tahoe region. Liberty Utilities was the only defendant remaining when the verdict was reached in April, 2018.
On its website, Liberty says it “… lives in and supports the communities we serve. We deliver safe and reliable service with care and integrity… we strive to exceed local and national license-to-operate requirements when it comes to environmental management. Our goal is to ensure we comply with all environmental regulations, which is an extension of our local, responsive and caring culture.”
How could Liberty not know about Park Water’s blatant disregard for its employees, and how it put profit above safety? Or maybe Liberty did know, and $11.4 million is just a part of the cost of doing business. However, Alfred Mata might not be the only casualty: An asbestos mesothelioma diagnosis can be tied to asbestos exposure going back decades. Asbestosis and asbestos cancer can lay dormant for many years, sometimes up to three or more decades, before suddenly emerging in an otherwise healthy individual.
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For instance, an asbestosis lawsuit in Alabama was based on second-hand asbestos exposure. Plaintiff Barbara Bobo died from mesothelioma in 2013, but not before she filed a lawsuit alleging that her asbestos exposure was the result of second-hand exposure from the same asbestos that claimed her husband’s life, while washing his work clothes.
“The jury held Park Water accountable for its practice of cutting corners and ignoring common sense health laws for decades,” said attorney Mark Bratt, with Weitz & Luxenberg law firm. “This verdict helps make Southern Los Angeles County a safer place to work and live by making it clear that companies cannot put profit ahead of safety.”