A Baltimore Circuit Court jury awarded $19.8 million yesterday to three men who contracted a fatal lung disease after being exposed to asbestos.
The plaintiffs, two of whom are dead, suffered from mesothelioma - a form of cancer directly linked to asbestos. They won the judgment against Hopeman Brothers, a ship carpentry company.
Unlike most asbestos cases, only one of the victims was a laborer in a city shipyard. The others were a security guard, who patrolled the shipyard area, and a worker who maintained vending machines at the shipyard, said the plaintiffs' lawyer, Michael T. Edmonds with the law offices of Peter T. Nicholl.
After a two-week trial, Edmonds said, the jury deliberated 40 minutes before awarding the plaintiffs millions of dollars for pain and suffering. In the cases of the two deceased men, the money will go to their families.
The plaintiffs were William J. Moore, who died at 72, a boilermaker at a Sparrows Point shipyard; Lewis Edler, also dead at 72, a guard at the Sparrows Point yard; and Robert Harlowe, 56, of Severn, who maintained vending machines at a Curtis Bay shipyard.
Edmonds said Hopeman Brothers was hired to build such things as living quarters for sailors on ships. They used asbestos-filled panels, which they would cut to fit in each ship.
"The dust went everywhere," Edmonds said. "All they had was fans, and it blew the dust all over."
Edmonds also alleged that the company knew of the dangers but never told the employees. Warning labels had been placed on the panels, but company workers took them off.
"They removed the warnings before they installed them," Edmonds said.
Attorneys for Hopeman Brothers, a Virginia-based company, could not be reached last night for comment.