A six-member jury in Superior Court in Bergen County, New Jersey, ruled on Feb. 26 to award the family of Mark Buttitta a settlement of $30.3 million. The judgment is one of the largest ever in asbestos litigation in the state. Buttitta died of mesothelioma just before Christmas 2002, at age 50, after being diagnosed in 2001. Mesothelioma is lung cancer attributed to asbestos exposure. Mark Buttitta is survived by his wife and three daughters.
According to a story in The Record, published Feb. 27, 2008, at www.northjersey.com, before his death, Buttitta sued General Motors and the manufacturers of the brakes and clutches stored at the warehouse, claiming that the asbestos used to make those products caused his cancer. Defendants included General Motors and Honeywell, which had already reached a settlement with the Buttitta family prior to the jury decision, and clutches supplier Borg-Warner and asbestos mining company Asbestos Corporation Limited of Canada, which are jointly responsible for satisfying the judgment. Both companies are expected to appeal.
The case is unusual because Buttitta doesn’t fit the usual profile for mesothelioma victims. Rather than spending a lifetime in an industrial setting, he was an advertising executive. However, his father, Frank Buttitta, Sr., was a lifelong employee at a General Motors (GM) parts warehouse, where he daily handled brakes and clutches made with asbestos, and Mark Buttitta and his brother, Frank Jr., worked summers in the parts warehouse during college, also handling parts.
Attorneys for the Buttitta family pointed out that Frank Sr. carried home asbestos fibers on his clothing every day, cradling his young son on his lap or settling in next to him on the sofa to watch television. For years, Mark was exposed to asbestos fibers. It has long been held that the families of asbestos workers are at as much risk as the workers themselves due to this type of residual contact with the fibers. No illness has been reported by either Frank Sr. or Frank Jr.
In 2003, Mark Buttitta’s family established the Mark Buttitta Memorial Foundation for Research, which strives to raise awareness about mesothelioma and asbestos-related diseases, with a goal of supporting research for a cure. The web site, www.markbuttittafoundation.com, states that the foundation has raised more than $150,000 to date. A wine tasting and silent auction is held annually for fund raising, with the next event set for March 4 in New York City.