A California appeals court won’t undo a $26.6 million verdict in a suit alleging that asbestos in Copeland Corp. LLC’s compressors gave an HVAC technician mesothelioma, finding the evidence at trial was sufficient for the jury to assign blame to the company.

The three-judge panel affirmed the verdict in favor of William Phipps and refused to disturb the jury’s finding that Copeland was 60% liable for the technician’s cancer based on his work in cleaning and repairing their compressors.

In the suit, Phipps, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2018, alleged that Copeland and 22 other entities failed to warn him about the risks of asbestos exposure when he worked on the machinery, leading him to breathe asbestos in and develop cancer later in life.

Four defendants made it to trial, and all but Copeland settled before the jury handed down its verdict, awarding Phipps $1.37 million in economic damages, which had been stipulated by the parties; $5 million in past noneconomic damages; and $20 million in future noneconomic damages, while awarding his wife $250,000 for loss of consortium.

Because the jury found Copeland 60% responsible, the company must pay 60% of that award.

On appeal, Copeland argued the evidence at trial did not support a finding that it had exposed Phipps, saying the true source of his cancer was his work in the U.S. Navy before he worked on Copeland machines and his father’s work as a Navy electrician while Phipps was living with him.

The appeals court, however, said the evidence could have reasonably led the jury to conclude that Copeland was more liable because testimony indicated that its compressors contained more gaskets than those of the other entities and that Phipps worked with Copeland’s compressors more frequently than others.

Phipp’s attorney, Joshua Paul of The Paul Law Firm, said that Phipps, who died during the appeals process, told him at the end of the trial that the amount of the award gave him a sense of pride in that he felt he was finally heard.


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