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Asbestos Victims' Kin Win Case

A jury has ordered two companies to pay $6 million to the family of a man who was exposed to asbestos during his 31 years as a janitor with the El Paso Independent School District.

Patricio Sanchez Jr. sued the U.S. Gypsum Co. and National Gypsum Co. in 1996, about 18 months before he died at age 60 of mesothelioma in September 1997. Mesothelioma is a cancer of the lining of the chest that has been linked to exposure to asbestos fibers.

His suit alleged that during his decades as a janitor for the school district beginning in 1962, he was exposed to the companies' joint-finishing compounds that contained asbestos.

Gold Bond, manufactured by National Gypsum, and Durabond, manufactured by Chicago-based U.S. Gypsum, were used during construction and renovation work on buildings at Dowell Elementary and at El Paso and Jefferson high schools to cover and finish seams between drywall panels.

An El Paso jury on Aug. 4 ordered the companies to pay $6,050,000 in actual damages to estate and relatives.

"He was very ill and he went through a lot of pain and we shared in that pain," said Sanchez' 33-year-old son, Pat Sanchez of El Paso. "To us, the verdict gave us a sense of justice and holding someone accountable for what happened to my father. My dad's cancer could have been avoided completely."

Stan Ferguson, associate general counsel for U.S. Gypsum, now known as USG Corp., would not comment on the verdict.

Officials at National Gypsum, now known as Asbestos Claims Management Corp., could not be reached for comment.

The jury awarded $3.5 million in actual damages to Patricio Sanchez' estate for the pain and mental anguish he suffered before his death. Jurors also awarded Sanchez's wife, Isaura Sanchez, $1.5 million and the couple's children $500,000 each. His mother was awarded $50,000.

The jury found "clear and convincing evidence that the injury resulting in the death of Patricio Sanchez Jr. resulted from gross neglect," but the parties settled before the punitive damages phase of the trial.

El Paso County Court at Law Judge Javier Alvarez presided over the trial.

Sanchez' claims against four other companies -- Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., Synkoloid, Kelly-Moore Paint Co. and W.R. Grace Co. -- were settled during an earlier trial, Ferguson said.

Written By Melissa Williams

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