Deceased man’s family wins $13 million judgment in mesothelioma case against Hillshire Farms

By Laura Halleman | Sep 8, 2017

The family of a man who died of mesothelioma caused by asbestos use at a sugar refinery owned by Hillshire Brands Company was awarded $13 million by a California jury in a wrongful death lawsuit.

The case was heard in a California superior court and was brought by the family of Mark Lopez, who lived a few hundred yards from the Union City Sugar Refinery as a child. The housing was also owned by Hillshire.

“Mesothelioma is a progressive lung disease related to exposure of asbestos,” court documents state.

Hillshire Brands plans to appeal.

Lopez died on July 7, 2015, from asbestos exposure at the age of 60.

“Mesothelioma is a very rare disease,” said Jeff Kaiser of Kaiser Gornick LLP, who represented Lopezs’ family in the suit. “I don’t anticipate a huge amount of cases coming forward after this, because it is so rare.”

The suit alleged Lopez contracted mesothelioma that resulted from asbestos exposure growing up in Betteravia, a small company town near the sugar refinery. The housing he lived in also was owned by Hillshire and contained asbestos.

Lopez was, “exposed to asbestos fibers emitted during the operation, maintenance, disposal and other activities at the Union Sugar Refinery, which caused friable asbestos fibers to contaminate the area surrounding the plant, including company housing,” court documents state.

Lopez’s father worked at the refinery from 1950 to 1993, which caused secondary exposure for Lopez to asbestos. His grandfather also was employed there.

During the trial, evidence was shown that Hillshire employees worked with asbestos often, without safety precautions.

The jury concluded Hillshire was 100 percent negligent and at fault. The Lopez family was awarded $11 million for non-economic damages and $1,958,461 for economic damages.

“It was a slam dunk case,” Kaiser said. “The jury deliberated only 10 minutes before reaching a verdict. The family would like closure after 3 1/2 years of litigating and have maybe two more years to handle an appeal. They will just be patient.” 

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