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West Islip man wins $7M award in asbestos case

A West Islip man who alleged he contracted a rare form of lung cancer from exposure to asbestos during construction of the Northport Power Station has been awarded $7 million by a jury in state Supreme Court.

Lawyers for the man, Ralph North, 79, said in court papers that he contracted mesothelioma in 2012, some 46 years after he worked for a private contractor installing giant boilers during three phases of construction at the plant, which was built starting in 1966. National Grid, a primary defendant in the case, took over the LILCO plants after it acquired KeySpan in 2007.

While LIPA is not listed as a defendant in the case, it is unclear whether the authority, which is still technically the Long Island Lighting Co. "doing business as" LIPA, faces any liability in the case. LIPA and PSEG Long Island both declined to comment.

"The exposures to asbestos were very high and very intense," said Jerome Block, an attorney for North at the Manhattan law firm Levy Konigsberg. He said evidence presented at trial showed that LILCO supervisors took "no safety measures whatsoever to protect workers from asbestos during the construction of the Northport plant."

National Grid, in a statement, said: "While we sympathize with Mr. North and his family, we strongly believe [the] verdict is not supported by the facts and does not meet the legal standards applied to such cases. We believe we have strong legal and factual arguments to overturn this decision, and we will review our legal options including appeal."

Block said Northport plant case represented the largest single verdict against National Grid or LILCO.

A verdict sheet issued this week assigned 100 percent of the fault for North's exposure to LILCO, and awarded him $3.5 million for pain and suffering and another $3.5 million for future pain and suffering.

One witness called in the case was former LILCO employee Richard Gallagher of Coram, who oversaw asbestos insulation application at the plant for LILCO's construction division. He testified that the company never told him about the dangers of breathing asbestos, did not monitor air quality for asbestos or post warning signs about the hazards, according to a trial transcript. Block said similar cases are pending against the company for asbestos-related exposure at other former LILCO plants, including a "substantial number" stemming from construction of the never-opened Shoreham nuclear power plant.

LIPA, in its annual financial statement, notes that asbestos litigation by "thousands of plaintiffs" is pending in state court against it, National Grid and LILCO, involving six major LILCO plants.

"These cases include extraordinarily large damage claims, which have proven to be excessive," LIPA's filing states, while noting the amount paid to plaintiffs from LILCO plants "has not been material" to the authority. LIPA expects it will have liability in a "significantly smaller percentage of cases" in the future.

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