This summer, a Buffalo jury delivered a three million dollar verdict in the case of a former Ashland Oil employee. In February 2012, at the age of seventy-four, Lee Bernard Holdsworth was diagnosed with mesothelioma caused by his job-related exposure to asbestos. Mr. Holdsworth brought suit against several companies responsible for the sale and distribution of a variety of asbestos-containing products used at the oil refinery.
Lee Holdsworth battled mesothelioma for nearly a year. He died on January 17, 2013, in the care of Hospice of Buffalo. He was survived by his wife of over fifty years, who sadly passed away in October. Lee was also survived by his three children and ten grandchildren.
Lee Holdsworth began his career at the Ashland Oil facility in Tonawanda, New York, in 1956. Three years later he was promoted to the position of Lab Tester, a job he held for nearly 20 years. Beginning in the 1960s, virtually all the employees at the oil refinery participated in regular “shutdown work.” During this work, the employees, including Lee Holdsworth, would leave their regular positions to participate in the removal and reinstallation of asbestos–containing gaskets, pipe covering, cement and block insulation. In particular, Lee removed asbestos gaskets from valves manufactured by Crane Co., the sole defendant remaining at trial. In order to remove gaskets from Crane valves, it was necessary for Lee to use an electric grinder, which created visible dust.
Crane’s knowledge of the harmful effects of the inhalation of asbestos dust dated back to the 1930s. Nonetheless, Crane continued to incorporate asbestos components into its products without warning the workers.
The Buffalo jury assigned 35% of the responsibility for causing Mr. Holdsworth’s injuries to defendant Crane and the remaining percentages of responsibility to other entities, including those defendants which settled before trial. The jury also found that Crane’s actions were taken with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
“The jury sent a strong message to Crane Co. that it cannot market hazardous products without providing any warnings,” said Michael A. Ponterio, a partner at Lipsitz & Ponterio who, together with Lipsitz & Ponterio partner John P. Comerford, represented Mr. Holdsworth at trial.