Doug Walters: Public Servant, Patriot and Husband Extraordinaire

A jury in Corpus Christi , Texas, on June 5, 1997 awarded the family of Doug Walters $8.5 million in actual damages. The damages were awarded to Doug's wife, his two parents and to his estate. Doug Walters died at the age of 50 because of malignant pleural mesothelioma

Doug Walters

Doug Walters

Doug Walters was an extraordinary man. He first contacted me on July 18, 1994. He was a deputy sergeant with the San Diego Sheriff's Department. He was reluctant to file a lawsuit. Like most people, he assumed that the asbestos companies really did not know that their products were dangerous. I showed him the evidence. Needless to say, he was outraged at the asbestos industry's reckless indifference and cowardice.

I always considered Mr. Walters to be Harrison Ford's double. He was very athletic, very charming, very handsome and he was a patriot. He was a decorated police officer and sergeant. He saved the lives of children from floods and burning apartments. He gave frequent talks to local schools about crime prevention. He wrote a column in the newspaper about the law and public safety. When he passed away on August 15, 1994, the "Daily Californian" in San Diego ran a front page story about the tragic loss of a brave public servant, friend, father and husband.

I'll never forget the day I met with Doug and his wife in the hospital. We talked about many things, but you could tell he was anxious to get home. He told me how much he didn't like the chest tube: "One chest tube per lifetime is enough." Doug was a surfer, and you could tell he was tired of the tests, and the tubes, and the bright lights and the nurses and he wanted his solitude. He was giddy with the prospect of going home the next morning.

His hospital discharge all hung on whether the doctors liked what they saw in a recent a CT scan and in some blood work. A nurse walked in. "I'm sorry, but the doctors want you to have surgery in the morning." Doug Walters, who three months earlier was riding the waves and chasing down bad guys, buried his head in his hands and pleaded: "Can't I get lucky just once?" It was at that moment that Mr. Walters probably knew that his battle was over. My chin started quivering and I could feel tears coming on. I looked at his wife. She was upset, deeply, but she did not show it. She had to be strong, and this gave me, strength, too. I know she wanted to cry, but she needed to be strong for the man she loved.

To this day Doug's wife recalls the entire experience as "a bad dream that I was just hoping to wake up from. If only tomorrow morning I would wake up and Doug was back with me. If only it could be."

Mr. Walters was exposed to asbestos intermittently while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1961 to 1971. He served as a torpedo man's mate, second class, on board Polaris submarines such as the USS Andrew Jackson and the USS George Washington Carver. We have a picture of him on the same submarine with President John F. Kennedy that was taken only a few weeks before his fateful trip to Dallas, Texas.

In 1969, Mr. Walters was elected by his superior officers as a winner in the Merit Award Program, which recognized outstanding young enlisted men. In a letter to Mr. Walters' parents, California State Senator James R. Mills commended his parents for raising "a young man of whom you and the whole community may be proud." Senator Mills wrote: "Today, the peace of the world, the future of mankind, and the safety of our great nation depends on the loyalty and courage of fine young men like your son."

Mr. Walters was an avid surfer, skier, swimmer, sailor and golfer. On his 50th birthday, prior to the onset of his symptoms, Mr. Walters' co-workers at the Sheriff's department gave him a brand new surfboard. Mr. Walters enjoyed surfing after and sometimes before work, at least twice a week. In lieu of a depressing funeral, one of Doug's daughters decided that they would hold a memorial service at sunset on a bluff in La Jolla overlooking Doug's favorite surfing spot in La Jolla Shores. Doug used to tell his family that "when I am gone, have a party!" The service was attended by over 200 friends, family, police officers and detectives who wore Hawaiian shirts and swimming trunks. After the speakers paid their respects, Doug's surfing partners paddled out to sea on surfboards. Doug's board was towed out with only a flower lei on it. At the same time one of Doug's friends behind the microphone said "Aloha, Doug," one of the surfers tossed the lei into the ocean, just as the sun set. It was a tearful and beautiful tribute.

Doug and Cissy

Doug and Cissy Walters'

Regarding the award, Mrs. Walters thanked the jury, but said she would trade it all to get her husband back. "I just hope this makes companies think twice about selling dangerous products so that other wives don't have to become widows."

The trial lasted 7 days. The only defendant was Pittsburg Corning Corporation, which made Unibestos pipe covering and block from 1962 to 1972. Before the closing argument, the attorney for the defense spoke briefly to Mrs. Walters. She was amazed at how many people had been hurt or killed by asbestos and asked him what he thought about representing a company with such a terrible track record. He answered like this: "I'll tell you. Did you every see that Saturday Night Live skit where the guy kept saying "Base -eh-bowl has bin betty betty good to me"? Well, asbestos has been "betty betty good to me."

Doug Walters had it right when he first read a few of the documents I gave to him about Pittsburg Corning and other asbestos companies showing what they knew and when. He said: "Sue the bastards!"

Special thanks to Lisa Blue, esquire, who tried the case and did an amazing job in her first trial ever against Pittsburg Corning, which had won several cases recently in Houston.

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Every case is different. Similar results may not be obtained in your case.
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Higher Court Affirms Trial Judgment Against PCC!!

The Court of Appeals in Corpus Christi, Texas on August 5, 1999 affirmed the trial court's judgment of over $8.8 million, plus post judgment interest.

The Court of Appeals agreed with the jury that:

1. Pittsburg Corning (PCC) manufactured an unreasonably dangerous product (Unibestos pipe covering and block) during the 1960s which caused Doug Walter's mesothelioma;

2. PCC was aware of the dangers of mesothelioma caused by asbestos in the early 1960s;

3. Mrs. Walters had presented more than sufficient evidence to justify the jury's award to her husband's esate, to herself personally, and to Mr. Walters' mother and father (each was awarded $145,437 for loss of consortium and mental anguish).

The Court was clearly impressed with Doug and Cecile Walters. The following is an excerpt from the opinion:

"The record in this case is replete with evidence of the negative impact suffered by Douglas Walters, his wife, and his parents during the pendency of his illness. Douglas Walters was an athletic, active man. After being diagnosed with mesothelioma, doctors extracted fluid from his chest cavity on several occasions. In an attempt to remove the cancerous tissue from his chest and extend his life, his doctor performed a thoracotomy, but discovered that extraction of that tissue would have killed him. Because the cancer could not be removed, Walters instead underwent chemotherapy. That treatment resulted in hair loss, fever, weakness, dizziness, and nausea.

As the disease progressed, Walters became noticeably short of breath and was eventually bedridden. The medical experts agreed that the pain associated with mesothelioma is excruciating and unceasing. All of the witnesses who were with Mr. Walters near the end of his life agreed that he suffered from that type of pain.

Mrs. Walters described her relationship with Doug Walters as warm and exciting. They were married sixteen years. After his diagnosis of mesothelioma, Mrs. Walters accepted the burdens of caring for her ill husband. She was uniformly described as concerned and supportive during her husbands illness. She stayed with him at all times during his hospitalization. The doctors agreed that frank discussions of the illness and treatments were painful and difficult for Mrs. Walters to endure.

Douglas Walters was the only son of Richard and Arline Walters. They depended on their son to provide substantial support due to their age and health. His death left his parents with no other family.

Based on this evidence, the jury had a sufficient basis to support damages findings on behalf of each of the plaintiffs."

The 38 page opinion was written by the Chief Justice of the Court of Appeals, the Honorable Robert J. Seerden.

*** POSTED SEPTEMBER 1, 1999 ***

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Every case is different. Similar results may not be obtained in your case.
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