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A St. Louis jury has awarded $5.1 million to the family of a 42-year-old Missouri woman who died of asbestos-related cancer after apparently being exposed to fibers while a toddler. The verdict came after the judge sanctioned the defendant, Aerojet-General Corp., and barred defense lawyers from presenting key evidence that the company had never used asbestos in its products. That evidence was found to be false. The jury was never told that Aerojet, a Rancho Cordova, Calif., maker of rocket and missile motors for the military, had denied in court papers ever using asbestos. However, the judge directed the jury to find that the plaintiff was exposed as a child and that the company knew the material was hazardous at the time. “We repeatedly asked Aerojet about the use of asbestos and they said no, no, no,” said Randall Bono of the Simmons Firm in St. Louis, a lawyer for the family of the deceased, Stephanie Foster. “But we found evidence otherwise.” The unusual two-week trial took place in St. Louis Circuit Court before Judge Robert Dierker. Foster v. Aerojet; No. 012-9428. The Foster case was one of about 300,000 asbestos-related cases now before state and federal courts, experts say. And that number is expected to grow at a rate of more than 50,000 new cases a year as people who fear they were exposed to cancer-causing asbestos — in many cases decades ago — but may not even become aware of the health risks. Asbestos litigation already has forced dozens of companies into bankruptcy. The Simmons Firm is among a number of law firms that handle nothing but asbestos litigation. “We currently have about 1,400 cases,” Bono said, “and we are not the biggest asbestos firm. But we are the biggest firm when it comes to mesothelioma.” Foster learned in 1999 that she had mesothelioma, an inoperable and almost always fatal cancer caused by asbestos fibers lodged in the lungs. Her father, Robert Foster Jr., had worked for an Aerojet contractor some 40 years ago, machining asbestos on a lathe. “Stephanie was his first-born and he would come home from work and grab his little girl and give her a hug — with no idea that he carried asbestos on his clothes,” said Ted Gianaris, who is also with the Simmons Firm and is co-chairman on the case. He described Stephanie Foster, who died in March 2001, as among the “third wave” of asbestos victims. The first wave were the miners who dug up asbestos minerals and construction workers who first put it in ships and buildings decades ago. The second wave were people who later worked regularly with asbestos products. The third wave is younger people who often do not know how — or if — they were exposed, Gianaris said. FEE PAYMENT ORDERED Under the judge’s sanction order in the Foster case, Aerojet must pay all the plaintiffs’ attorney fees for the research and preparation that went into challenging the company’s asbestos evidence. Aerojet plans to appeal the jury verdict, which compensates the family for pain and suffering and economic damages. “Aerojet believes that the trial court’s rulings on discovery issues, admissibility of evidence and instruction to the jury were in plain error and directly led to the jury’s unfavorable verdict,” Linda Beech Cutler, vice president of corporate communications for GenCorp, Aerojet’s parent company, said in a statement. “Once a final judgment has been entered in this case, Aerojet will appeal.” A lawyer for Aerojet, Michael Vasquez of Vasquez & Estrada in San Rafael, Calif., another firm that specializes in asbestos cases, declined to comment on the Foster trial.

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