Mesothelioma families are under enormous pressure. The medical, emotional, physical, and financial strain of this deadly cancer is crushing. But mesothelioma families bond together to face up to these challenges. They know that bonding together gives them the strength to fight this asbestos-caused disease.
When Jim Hellam joined the ranks of mesothelioma families, he knew he wanted to fight back against the corporations responsible for his asbestos exposure. But that’s not where his story begins. It starts years earlier.
Jim Hellam: A Life of Service
Jim Hellam was a baby boomer, born in Monterey, California, in 1946. In the summer of 1962, when he was 15, he went to work for his grandfather’s boiler repair company in Monterey. For the next five summers, he worked alongside his grandfather to recondition and repair boilers. Jim’s duties involved cutting gaskets from sheets of raw material and creating a cement slurry from powder. Crane Co. supplied the raw materials that Jim used in his grandfather’s shop. They failed to supply a warning that their materials contained asbestos, which was known to cause mesothelioma and other illnesses by that time.
When he wasn’t working or going to school, Jim Hellam played sports. He developed an early love of baseball and softball that stayed with him throughout his life.
In 1969, Jim earned a degree in criminal justice from San Jose State University. He joined the San Jose Police Department and was promoted to sergeant at the young age of 25. His work included going undercover with the vice squad.
Though he seemed well-suited to his law enforcement career, fate had other things in mind for Jim Hellam. After just 13 years on the force, Jim was recruited to become a trainer and motivational speaker. He went on to form his own firm and traveled around the world to conduct leadership training and life coaching.
In between his professional commitments, Jim remained devoted to the game of softball. He joined an adult softball league and played high-level amateur softball, winning many awards. He was even inducted into the National Senior Softball Hall of Fame. He continued playing in tournaments into his 60s. He delighted in coaching his two sons and, later, his three grandsons, in baseball and football. In his later years, he also enjoyed spending time on water skis or in a boat on Clearlake, in northern California.
Mesothelioma Families: A Surprise Diagnosis
Jim Hellam was going full steam ahead in 2009, playing in softball tournaments, running his successful business, and spending time with his children and grandchildren, when he started having back pain and becoming short of breath.
Jim had no reason to suspect that he might have mesothelioma. There was no asbestos warning on the products he had used in his grandfather’s boiler business. Plus, he had only worked around boilers for a few summers and that was more than 40 years ago.
It took two years for Jim to get the mesothelioma diagnosis that made him a member of the fellowship of mesothelioma families. In 2011, he decided to undergo an extrapleural pneumonectomy (EPP). EPP is the most radical surgical option for mesothelioma patients. Jim had the lung affected by mesothelioma removed, along with his pleura (the lining around the lung) and other tissues.
The recovery from EPP is difficult. Because the procedure is invasive, the road to recovery is long. On top of that, you have to learn to breathe and function with just one lung. Jim Hellam’s lifelong athleticism served him well in withstanding surgery and the recovery afterward. His example points to the importance of physical activity in improving outcomes for mesothelioma patients.
Mesothelioma Families Triumph in Court
Before Jim Hellam’s diagnosis, he didn’t know that mesothelioma is caused by asbestos exposure. He didn’t realize he was at risk.
Once he found out, Jim knew what to do. He wanted justice for the years that asbestos exposure robbed from his and other mesothelioma families. He approached Kazan Law to represent him in taking his claims to court.
Jim had to go back through his work and life history, all the way back to those summers in Monterey when he was still in high school. None of his other work had exposed him to asbestos. His early work experience, which seemed like a great way to prepare him for life and to spend time with his grandfather, had also left him an unexpected legacy. It had planted the toxic seed that would lead his family to become one of the mesothelioma families, more than four decades later.
Crane Co., which made the asbestos-laced powdered cement and gasket material that Jim used when he was a teenager in the 1960s, denied responsibility. The company said it wasn’t aware of the dangers of asbestos until the 1970s, after Jim Hellam had moved on to other pursuits. Jim’s attorneys at Kazan Law were able to show that the corporation knew or should have known about the hazards of asbestos exposure as early as the 1930s, long before Jim worked in his grandfather’s shop.
Crane Co. refused to settle and Jim’s case went to trial. In 2014, on Jim Hellam’s 66th birthday, the jury came back with a verdict in his favor. The award covered the income he lost because of missed work since his diagnosis, and his future loss of potential earnings. The jury awarded Jim $937,882.56 to cover his medical expenses and lost income. Finally, after the trial, the court awarded Jim $85,000 to cover the costs of the trial.
The jury also found Crane Co liable for $4.5 million in non-economic damages. Non-economic damages are payment for all the things that are hard to put a price tag on: the pain and suffering that Jim experienced due to his mesothelioma diagnosis and treatment, the loss of his ability to play softball, and the fact that he won’t be able to see his grandchildren grow up, among other factors.
Crane Co. Fights Back but Mesothelioma Families Win
Not content with dragging mesothelioma families through the strain of a jury trial, Crane Co. appealed to reduce the verdict. When some parties in a case settle and others go to trial, the jury verdict can be reduced according to the percent of the damages that the jury assigns to each party. Some part of the settlement funds from other defendants can be used to offset the jury verdict.
Jim Hellam’s case was important. Crane Co. fought hard for a new interpretation of the law that would have allowed it to pay less. The corporation even filed a second appeal after losing the first. Jim’s lawyers at Kazan Law fought back harder. In winning on appeal, they ensured that other corporations won’t be able to slither out of paying the damages they rightly owe.
Sadly, Jim’s story ended on April 30, 2014. He fought hard and lived longer than many mesothelioma patients. He left behind four children, three grandchildren, three sisters, a brother, and his father. Though he is gone, Jim Hellam’s impact on mesothelioma families will live on.