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Tacoma man who dismantled WWII ships wins big jury verdict in mesothelioma lawsuit

News Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. logoNews Tribune, Tacoma, Wash. 8/13/2021 Alexis Krell, The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.)

Aug. 13—Jurors have awarded $11.2 million to a man who developed terminal mesothelioma after working for a company that dismantled World War II ships in Tacoma.

Dennis Woodruff, 75, was exposed to asbestos when he worked for Zidell Dismantling from 1970 to 1973.

He sued Zidell's Portland-based sister company, Zidell Explorations, and the Port of Tacoma, which owned the land Zidell used.

Pierce County Superior Court jurors found the company and the port negligent in their verdict Aug. 5. They determined that the Port's negligence wasn't a substantial factor in causing Woodruff's illness and that Zidell's was.

That means Zidell will pay the $11.2 million, which Woodruff's attorneys said is among the highest jury verdicts of that sort in the state.

"We are grateful that Dennis Woodruff was able to participate in his trial and see a jury hold Zidell Explorations accountable for failing to warn and protect him from asbestos hazards," Chandler Udo, one of Woodruff's attorneys, said in a news release. "The jury's conclusion that Dennis had no fault for contracting his preventable disease is especially gratifying and important to Dennis."

The defendants argued at trial that Woodruff should have worn a respirator.

Woodruff testified that he didn't know insulation in the Navy ships he dismantled had dangerous levels of asbestos, and his attorneys argued the company should have warned and protected him.

Zidell allegedly promised the Port that the work site was safe and that they'd follow safety regulations. Decades after Woodruff worked there studies showed asbestos in the soil, his attorneys said.

"We are very sorry to learn about Mr. Woodruff's illness and send caring and compassionate thoughts to him and his family," Eric Johnson, executive director of the Port of Tacoma said in a statement. "... the jury awarded Mr. Woodruff monetary damages to be paid by Zidell. While the jury found that the Port was also negligent, the jury found that the Port did nothing that caused any injury to Mr. Woodruff and the Port is not liable for any amount of the total award."

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