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Volkswagen AG, Group of America found responsible for mesothelioma death of Spokane man

The ruling from a King County jury awarded the now-deceased mechanic Thomas Sorrentino and his son $5.75 million in damages.
Credit: AP
FILE - This Feb. 14, 2019, file photo, shows the Volkswagen logo on an automobile at the 2019 Pittsburgh International Auto Show in Pittsburgh. Volkswagen is recalling more than 218,000 Jetta sedans in the U.S. to fix a fuel leak problem that can cause fires. The recall covers certain cars from the 2016 through 2018 model years. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar, File)

SPOKANE, Wash. — Volkswagen AG of Germany and Volkswagen Group of America were found liable for exposing a Spokane mechanic to carcinogenic asbestos that ultimately lead to his death.

The ruling from a King County jury awarded the now-deceased mechanic and his son $5.75 million in damages.

Thomas Sorrentino worked as a car mechanic from 1972 to 1975 at United Volkswagen in Spokane. His work primarily consisted of replacing brakes and clutches on Volkswagen cars, which Sorrentino's attorney said exposed him to friction material that contained asbestos.

While replacing brakes, Sorrentino's attorney. said he used an Ammco grinding machine in order to arc the brake to fit the drum. He also used an air compressor to blow dust off of the brake drum. This caused asbestos dust to be released into the air, according to Sorrentino's attorney

Sorrentino's attorney argued it was that exposure that later led to his mesothelioma diagnosis in November 2020. 

Mesothelioma is a rare type of cancer that develops in the thin layer of tissue that covers most of the internal organs, according to the American Lung Association.

Ultimately, Sorrentino died from his illness in February 2021, shortly after he gave his deposition in this lawsuit.

Sorrentino's lawyer said Volkswagen AG was testing for asbestos at its factories in Germany, but not in the United States at the time of Sorrentino's exposure.

Volkswagen admitted it placed no asbestos warning on its replacement brakes, brake boxes or in any advertisements between 1972 and 1975.

Because of the failure to warn of potential exposure, Sorrentino's attorney said he had no chance to protect himself from asbestos while working as a mechanic.

"While nothing can bring back Mr. Sorrentino nor truly compensate him for the unnecessary pain and suffering he endured as a result of his exposure to asbestos and ensuing diagnosis of mesothelioma, today’s verdict offers some amount of accountability for the harm caused by Volkswagen Group of America and its parent company Volkswagen AG of Germany,” said Chandler H. Udo, Mr. Sorrentino’s attorney and managing partner of the law firm Bergman Draper Oslund Udo.

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