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Clearfield woman awarded $5.2 million in asbestos case

Removal of asbestos, a carcinogen coating these tanks, began Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Removal of asbestos, a carcinogen coating these tanks, began Thursday in Salt Lake City.
Tom Smart, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — When Vickie Warren was a teenager growing up in Provo, she would often help her father, a Geneva Steel employee, with homebuilding that he did on the side.

To smooth out the joints in the walls, her father used a compound that he would apply and shave down, and his daughter would clean up the dust and debris that was left behind. What they didn't know then was that the compound contained asbestos, which would later lead, very likely, to her death.

Warren is now so ill due to the exposure that her story had to be recounted to the Deseret News by one of her attorneys, Bob Gilchrist.

Gilchrist represented Warren in a case that last week led a Salt Lake City jury to hand down what Gilchrist said may be "the largest asbestos verdict ever in Utah or the surrounding states" following a 5 1/2 week trial.

In total, Warren was awarded more than $5.2 million in damages.

Asbestos is a fiber commonly used in building construction materials as an insulator and fire retardant, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. The government's National Cancer Institute further explains that asbestos is the "major risk factor" for a type of cancer known as mesothelioma, which Warren has battled since 2007. Seventy to 80 percent of mesothelioma cases can be traced to asbestos exposure.

"You don't usually develop that cancer until 20 to 30 years later," Gilchrist said. "And it is fatal and she will pass away from that. … She is a very heroic, very nice woman."

The defendants in the case included building manufacturing companies Georgia-Pacific, LLP and Hamilton Materials, Inc. and asbestos-mining company Union Carbide Corp. Gilchirst said the jury found that Georgia-Pacific and Hamilton Materials produced "defectively designed" joint compounds made up of asbestos fiber products produced by Union Carbide.

The jury awarded Warren approximately $1.4 million in economic damages and more than $3.7 million in non-economic damages.

For Gilchrist, it is a victory not only for himself and for Warren, but his various other clients who died before their cases could even make it to trial.

"It was wonderful," he said, "to finally have a jury pay attention and do what we thought was right by Vickie Warren. … To be doing this for 10 years and to get results like this is beyond belief."

The case was presided over by 3rd District Judge Glenn Iwasaki.

Attorneys representing the companies involved in the case did not return calls.