On June 4, 2002, an Alameda County Superior Court jury returned a verdict in excess of $20 million for Karen and Jeffrey Peterson. Total responsibility (100 percent) for Ms. Peterson’s mesothelioma was assessed against Hill Brothers Chemical Company, a Southern California chemical company that is based in Orange, California. The jury also found that defendant Hill Brothers Chemical’s conduct was undertaken with malice, oppression or fraud, requiring an additional phase of the trial to determine an amount of punitive damages. Hill Brothers Chemical avoided this phase by making an undisclosed settlement award. (Karen Peterson and Jeffrey Peterson v. Hill Brothers Chemical Company, Alameda County Superior Court 2001-031817)
Karen Peterson was age 42 at the time of the suit. She was exposed to asbestos in her own family home from products manufactured by Hill Brothers Chemical Company from the time of her birth until she left home at age 18 to attend college. The asbestos-containing cementitious magnesite floor which exposed Ms. Peterson to asbestos is still in place in tens of thousands of homes today. Trial evidence included an estimate of 4 million square feet of the flooring still in place in family homes in Los Angeles and elsewhere in California. Although Hill Brothers Chemical Company’s products sold today do not contain asbestos, the company makes an exclusive line of accessory products including sealers and repair products that are specifically marketed to be used on existing asbestos-containing magnesite floors installed from the 1920s through 1977.
Plaintiffs and their attorneys consider both the current existence of these floors and the Hill Brothers Chemical’s recommended restoration practice for these asbestos-containing floors—including sanding and wire brushing—to be a significant public health issue. If left unaddressed, in place magnesite flooring and refurbishing practices have the potential to expose a large number of persons to asbestos fibers now and put people at increased risk for serious and potentially fatal asbestos cancers many decades into the future.
The Petersons were represented at trial by Kazan Law partner Simona A. Farrise and associate Andrea C. Huston.