On January 20, a New York City jury awarded the largest single asbestos verdict -- $75 million -- to Marlena and Ed Robaey. Mrs. Robaey was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos while working on her husband’s automotive parts during his 20-year career as a drag racer.

Peritoneal mesothelioma, an aggressive and rare form of lung cancer, when asbestos fibers, which are inhaled, become lodged in the protective lining of the abdomen and stomach known as the peritoneum. Following exposure, asbestos-related diseases like mesothelioma and lung cancer can take many years to develop.

Automotive industry workers, like the Robaeys, are at a high risk of developing mesothelioma. Many automotive products used prior to and throughout the 1980s contained asbestos, and as a result, enthusiasts and workers experienced heightened levels of exposure. Many who were exposed throughout their careers were unaware their exposure carried significant risk.

Husband and Wife Were Exposed to Asbestos During 20+ Years in Automotive Industry

Mrs. Robaey was first exposed to asbestos in the 1970s while working alongside her husband who repaired automobile engines and other car parts. Both regularly worked on engines for a period of about 20 years.

auto parts asbestos exposure

Automobile parts used throughout the 1970s and 1980s, including gaskets, valves, compressors, engine covers, tires, and brakes contained asbestos. Asbestos is well-known for the ability to resist heat and insulate, which made it an ideal component for automobile parts.

During the trial, Mrs. Robaey and her husband recalled seeing asbestos dust clouds in the garage while they worked, but said, at the time, they were not aware that asbestos was a carcinogen. These risks were known throughout the industry. Many parts manufacturers continued to use asbestos in their parts long after it was a known carcinogen and these companies failed to warn people of the risk.

Wife Diagnosed with Peritoneal Mesothelioma

Mrs. Robaey was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma in November 2012. She and her husband filed a lawsuit against the parts manufacturers, who they alleged were responsible for the exposure and resulting mesothelioma.

In addition to being exposed to asbestos dust in the garage, Mrs. Robaey was also exposed when laundering her husband’s asbestos-laden clothing when he would return home from work. After initial exposure, Mrs. Robaey did not show symptoms for more than 40 years.

Lawsuit Filed Against Asbestos Automobile Parts Manufacturers

The case was brought against multiple parts manufacturers, including Crane Company and Felt Products Manufacturing Company (Fel Pro), Dana Companies LLC, and Cleaver Brooks.

Experts including pulmonologists, epidemiologists, internal medicine, and an industrial hygienist testified for the family to prove how Mrs. Robaey’s mesothelioma was caused by the asbestos exposure.

Fel Pro defended the case arguing that their gaskets were not a substantial cause of Mrs. Robaey’s asbestos exposure and resulting mesothelioma. Additionally, they stated there was not enough evidence to show that they knew or should have known of the dangers associated with the asbestos in their gaskets.

Jury Rules in Favor of Husband and Wife in Largest New York City Asbestos Verdict

The jury ruled that Dana Companies LLC was 40% liable for the injuries sustained by Mrs. Robaey and Fel Pro 30% liable. Crane Company was found to be 20% liable and Cleaver Brooks 10% liable, however, these companies settled before trial.

The jury’s verdict of $75 million consisted of $40 million for past pain and suffering and $10 million for future pain and suffering of Mrs. Robaey.

The jury also awarded damages to the husband for the loss of care and support of his wife in the amount $10 million, and $15 million for future loss of consortium damages for Mr. Robaey.

The total amount of this asbestos and mesothelioma verdict represents the highest amount awarded to an individual mesothelioma patient in New York City history.