Tonawanda News

November 3, 2012

GM worker's family to receive $3 million settlement

Staff Reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — An Erie County jury has awarded $3 million to the family of a GM worker who died from asbestos exposure, according to the terms of a settlement related to a recent New York State Supreme Court case.

Gerald Suttner, formerly of Tonawanda, worked at the GM Powertrain Facility in the town for 36 years. From 1964 to 1979, he repaired valves manufactured by Crane Co., a job that involved removing asbestos gaskets which created visible dust. 

In October of 2010, he was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma, a form of cancer that is normally caused by asbestos research. He died one year later at the age of 77. 

An Illinois firm, Simmons Browder Gianaris Angelides & Barnerd LLC, along with attorneys from local law firm Lipsitz & Ponterio, LLC, represented Suttner’s wife and adult dependent daughter in the case against Crane Co. 

During the trial, expert witnesses testified that there is no such thing as safe asbestos exposure and assured the jury that Suttner’s exposure is what led to his diagnosis. 

Attorneys argued that the dangers of asbestos have been known since the early 1900s, and Crane was aware of them since the 1930s. 

“But the company continued to use asbestos well into the late 1980s without placing warnings on its products,” the law firm’s statement reads. 

The two-week trial was presided over by New York State Supreme Court Justice Hon. John P. Lane, and the jury assigned 4 percent of the damages to Crane. The remaining money will come from other responsible entities that settled out of court. 

Suttner retired from GM in 1997 and helped his wife, Joann, care for their disabled daughter. 

As a national officer for the Shriners organization, Suttner also served as a volunteer for the Shriners Hospital in Erie, Pa., and drove children back-and-forth to the facility. He also played in a band that raised money for the hospital. 

“He was determined throughout his life to help other people struggling under difficult circumstances,” Michael A. Ponterio, a partner at Lipsitz & Ponterio said. “It appears that this jury sent a strong message to defendant Crane that it, too, should have played by the rules that govern honorable behavior by warning Mr. Suttner about the dangers of handlings its products.”