Defense Digest, Vol. 30, No. 2, June 2024

Asbestosis Takes the Stand: Raising Awareness of an Abnormally High Verdict for a Typically Low Value Case

Key Points:

  • Asbestosis claims are usually considered to be on the lower end of settlements for asbestos law cases. 
  • A verdict of $25 million was returned by a jury in Philadelphia, where the last asbestosis case verdict was $957,000. 
  • Plaintiff’s oxygen dependence likely factored into verdict amount—a factor that should be weighed in future asbestosis claims. 

It’s not a secret that many cases don’t go to trial. We have reached an era of practicing law where it’s easier to settle, to negotiate, to compromise, rather than go to trial. Pre-trial settlements and dismissals make life easier on both plaintiff and defense counsel, especially in the world of asbestos, where there can be dozens of defendants. 

There are some asbestos cases that go to trial, but those are few and far between, especially in Pennsylvania. While trial dates and conciliations are scheduled, the majority of asbestos cases simply resolve, with all defendants either being dismissed or paying a settlement. (For frame of reference, there have been two asbestos trials in Allegheny County and three asbestos trials in Philadelphia County within the last five years). 

Determining the value of a case depends on the disease process itself. For those not involved in asbestos law, there are three main diseases that usually crop up—mesothelioma, lung cancer, and asbestosis. The mesothelioma claims are valued the highest, then lung cancer, and then asbestosis cases. Whether someone was a heavy smoker or not can influence the value of a lung cancer claim. Obviously, there are nuances with every case. Some of these nuances for asbestos cases include the type of job the plaintiff performed, other comorbidities he or she may have had, age, and how long he or she worked at a facility. However, the important context to take away from this scale is that asbestosis claims are near the lower end of the settlement hierarchy. 

With that in mind, we turn to the case of Richard Daciw. Mr. Daciw filed suit in the Philadelphia County Court of Common Pleas on May 2, 2019. Fifty-five entities were sued in the initial complaint, with an additional defendant added in an amended complaint. Mr. Daciw was 76 years old. He alleged asbestos exposure from serving in the Navy as a fireman and shipfitter from 1965 to 1969; as a maintenance mechanic at Jeffries Processors in Philadelphia from 1969 to 1972; as a pipefitter and welder for Domino Sugar in Philadelphia from 1972 to 1983; as a welder at Allied Chemical for several months in 1983; and, in various maintenance roles at Smith Kline from 1983 to 2004. 

Mr. Daciw was diagnosed with asbestosis by a treating pulmonologist in January of 2019. He had shortness of breath and difficulty breathing with activity. He also had chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and diabetes. An important medical note for Mr. Daciw was that he had become oxygen dependent due to his breathing troubles. 

Mr. Daciw was deposed for several days and provided lengthy testimony about the products he worked with over his career. He identified various brands of gaskets, packing, pumps, valves, turbines, boilers, and cement as the products and equipment that allegedly exposed him to asbestos. Based upon Mr. Daciw’s deposition testimony and his identification of these products, the case proceeded in the usual fashion—dismissals and settlements. However, not all defendants reached one of those resolutions. 

John Crane, Inc., was the lone defendant in this instance who took this case to trial. As an asbestosis case, it was a likely thought that the risk should have been minimal. However, the results of trial would prove that the risk was anything but minimal. 

Trial began on December 12, 2022, before Judge Ann Butchart. It would end on December 22, 2022, when the jury handed down a $25 million verdict. Richard Daciw, et al. v. John Crane Inc., et al., 2022 WL 18232642 (C.P. Phila. Dec. 19, 2022). Richard Daciw was awarded $15 million in damages, and his wife, Winifred Daciw, was awarded $10 million in a loss of consortium claim. While John Crane, Inc., was the sole defendant trying the case, there were an additional 19 defendants on the verdict sheet. Twelve of these non-party entities were found to have no liability for Mr. Daciw’s disease. John Crane, Inc., was found to be liable for asbestos exposure to Mr. Daciw and his subsequent asbestosis. Seven non-party entities were also found to be liable. The verdict sheet did not include how the $25 million would be apportioned. 

The last asbestosis case that went to trial in Philadelphia County had a verdict of $957,000. In fact, the last mesothelioma case that went to trial there had a verdict of about $3.8 million. That is a difference of $21 million for a disease process that is considered by most asbestos attorneys to create higher-value settlements for plaintiffs. While it’s impossible to know the full thought process, it is extremely likely that Mr. Daciw’s physical state—oxygen dependence—induced sympathy from the jury. 

With this most recent verdict, the usual approach to asbestosis cases needs to be taken with a grain of salt in Pennsylvania. While yes, the majority of asbestosis cases will probably continue to settle within usual ranges, attorneys and carriers alike need to be aware of the possibility that a push to trial could create a huge payday for a plaintiff, especially one with a health situation similar to Richard Daciw. A complete approach overhaul isn’t necessary, but a little awareness will go a long way when it comes to asbestosis cases. 

*Renee works in our Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, office. 


Defense Digest, Vol. 30, No. 2, June 2024, is prepared by Marshall Dennehey to provide information on recent legal developments of interest to our readers. This publication is not intended to provide legal advice for a specific situation or to create an attorney-client relationship. ATTORNEY ADVERTISING pursuant to New York RPC 7.1. © 2024 Marshall Dennehey. All Rights Reserved. This article may not be reprinted without the express written permission of our firm. For reprints, contact