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Jury finds Ford Motor Company liable for mechanic’s lung illness

Jurors in St. Louis on Aug. 22 found that Ford Motor Company was liable for the lung illness suffered by a South County man who worked as a mechanic at automobile dealerships from the 1960s to the 1980s.

According to court records, Alfred Bennett was an employee at various Ford, Lincoln and Mercury dealerships in St. Louis. He claims to have been exposed to asbestos through vehicle brakes, gaskets, clutches and replacement parts. He also claims that this asbestos exposure led to his diagnosis in June 2018 of pleural mesothelioma in his right lung.

Bennett filed suit in July 2018 against Ford. He also sued dozens of other defendants, who later were dismissed. His claims included strict liability, negligence and willful and wanton misconduct. His wife Pamela made a claim of loss of consortium.

The trial began on Aug. 12, 2019 and lasted nine days. According to the couple’s attorneys, Christopher T. Layloff and Jason Steinmeyer of The Gori Law Firm in Edwardsville, Illinois, Alfred was able to testify, but he was too ill to attend most of the trial and also was undergoing chemotherapy at the time.

Ford’s attorneys, Sherry A. Rozell and Steve Ward of the Tulsa, Oklahoma-based firm McAfee & Taft, did not respond to an interview request.

On Aug. 22, jurors deliberated from approximately 9:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m. before delivering a verdict in favor of the Bennetts. Their attorneys said the most important thing for the family was to be heard and either have the defendants admit they were wrong or have a jury determine that they were. That priority was revealed, Layloff and Steinmeyer said, when Pamela Bennett learned of the verdict. She got on the phone and told her husband the news; he didn’t ask about the amount of damages, and she didn’t think to share it, the attorneys said.

“It took us 14 months to get this to verdict, and our client was still alive,” Steinmeyer said. “Mesothelioma is such an aggressive disease; it’s certainly not the majority of the time that we have a client alive for the trial date.”

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Breakdown: $5,725,000 in actual damages and $2,000,000 in punitive damages to Alfred Bennett; $708,000 actual damages to Pamela Bennett

Venue: St. Louis Circuit Court

Case Number/Date: 1822-CC10744/Aug. 30, 2019

Judge: Christopher McGraugh

Plaintiffs’ Experts: Arnold R. Brody, Raleigh-Durham (asbestos science); Brent C. Staggs, Little Rock (pathology); Barry Castleman, Baltimore (asbestos); Murray Finkelstein, Toronto (environmental health)

Defendants’ Experts: Dominik Alexander, Ann Arbor, Michigan (epidemiology); Victor Roggli, Raleigh-Durham (pathology); Fionna Mowat, San Francisco (exposure assessment)

Caption: Alfred Bennett and Pamela Bennett v. Ford Motor Company

Plaintiffs’ Attorneys: Christopher T. Layloff and Jason Steinmeyer, The Gori Law Firm, Edwardsville, Illinois

Defendant’s Attorneys: Sherry A. Rozell and Steve Ward, McAfee & Taft, Tulsa, Oklahoma