Florida Jury Awards $21 Million to Former Utility Worker Exposed to Asbestos

Throughout the 1970s, a former Florida utility company employee was exposed to asbestos in excessive volumes at a power plant worksite. Four decades later, he’s been diagnosed with mesothelioma and is fighting for his life.

In December 2015, Florida resident Richard Batchelor was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a rare form of lung cancer that’s been linked to asbestos exposure. He, like many people who face such diagnoses, worked in the utility industry throughout the 1970s, which was notorious for using a large amount of asbestos in insulation and other uses.

Batchelor filed an asbestos claim late last year relating to the alleged exposure, which he said occurred when he participated in major maintenance projects at the site. Batchelor and his co-workers would strip asbestos-containing insulation from the power plant’s equipment, releasing the cancer-causing fibers into the air. Batchelor and his wife filed suit against several companies whose negligence he claimed created an unsafe work environment.

Recently, a Florida jury agreed, finding the plaintiff’s negligence led to Batchelor’s excessive asbestos exposure.

The jury awarded Batchelor and his wife $21 million in damages, as well as $381,742.12 for past medical expenses. The award consisted of $3 million for past pain and suffering, $12 million for future losses, $1 million in past damages and $5 million in future damages for Batchelor’s wife’s loss of consortium claim.

An All-Too-Common Story

Through the 1980s, asbestos was a widely used building material, known for its flame-retardant and insulating properties. Therefore, many blue collar workers like Batchelor were exposed to asbestos in excessive amounts throughout their early working years.

Workers in many blue collar and trade industries were more likely to be exposed than the general population. Along with the utility industry, asbestos exposure was common in construction, mining, manufacturing, railroad and automotive maintenance, shipbuilding, and industrial fields.

Asbestos, which can be breathed in when it has been disturbed, has been proven to cause serious illnesses, including mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer. Mesothelioma is caused when asbestos fibers enter the body through the lungs or digestive system, and cancer rates increase as the amount of exposure increases. The fibers then cause scarring, body tissue irritation and inflammation, which over decades can lead to mesothelioma.

Like Batchelor, many former blue collar workers who labored in unsafe work sites are now being diagnosed with this fatal disease.

Proving Premises Liability Led to Asbestos Exposure

Many defendants in asbestos lawsuits must prove premises liability, which means that their asbestos exposure was caused by unsafe working environments created by negligent premises managers.

In this particular case, Batchelor’s asbestos lawyers had to argue that not only the power plant’s operator, but Bechtel Corp., a contractor that oversaw the maintenance, controlled the premises during major maintenance shutdowns. This was a challenge for the legal team, but it was a successful approach.

Ultimately, Bechtel Corp was liable for 60 percent of the award, or $13 million. And other defendants, including Florida Power & Light and Foster Wheeler Corp were liable for 40 percent.

Matthew Davis

Author

Matthew Davis has studied journalism at the University of Colorado and has covered civil litigation for a variety of publications. He joined Mesowatch in 2016 and covers asbestos litigation developments in the U.S., as well as newsworthy asbestos cases.