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Sept. 20, 2021

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Former Camas paper mill worker’s family gets $16.67 million in verdict

Verdict was returned June 15 after 4-week trial held over Zoom

By , Columbian business reporter
Published:

The family of a former Camas paper mill worker has been awarded $16.67 million in a verdict against Scapa Waycross Inc., which sold asbestos-containing products to the mill up until the 1970s.

Kevan Holdsworth worked at the Camas mill from 1964 to 2001, according to a press release from Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, the Seattle-based law firm that represented his family.

The Camas mill is currently owned by Georgia-Pacific, a subsidiary of Koch Industries, but the case pertains to a time period in the 1970s when it was owned by Crown Zellerbach Corp. Georgia-Pacific acquired the mill in 2000 from Fort James Corp., whose predecessor James River Corp. bought it from Crown Zellerbach in 1986.

Holdsworth died in 2019 of mesothelioma, a type of cancer caused by the inhalation of asbestos fibers. His widow, Sherrie Holdsworth, sued Scapa Waycross because the company sold asbestos-containing “dryer felts” to the Camas mill until the late 1970s, according to the press release.

Dryer felts function like conveyor belts, carrying big sheets of wet paper through a series of heated rollers to dry the paper — the final stage in the process of manufacturing paper from pulp.

Holdsworth worked on the mill’s paper machine clean-up crew from 1970 to 1976, according to the press release, which involved clearing paper dust off the dryer felts and other manufacturing components using compressed air.

Asbestos made up a significant amount of the material in the felts at the time, according to Schroeter Goldmark & Bender attorney Luke Garrett, and the health risks of asbestos exposure — including mesothelioma, which can take years or decades to develop — were already known.

“It had been undeniable for decades that asbestos causes death and undeniable for five or six years that asbestos causes mesothelioma” by the time Holdsworth began working on the clean-up crew, Garrett said.

The jury returned a verdict in favor of the Holdsworth family on June 15 following a four-week trial held over Zoom, finding that Scapa Waycross acted negligently and manufactured, supplied or distributed a product that was not reasonably safe as designed and did not provide adequate warnings or instructions, and that those factors were proximate causes of Holdsworth’s illness and death.

“Kevan was an incredible man who spent his life putting others before himself. Those who knew him knew his generosity and sense of humor and deep love for the Seahawks — and countless other things that I miss every single day,” Sherrie Holdsworth said in a statement. “I’m grateful for SGB’s work to ensure Kevan’s legacy continues, and to hold companies accountable for their negligence in preventing this horrible illness.”

The $16.67 million verdict was described as the largest ever in an asbestos case tried in King County and the second-largest in the state.

SGB has had success representing workers in other industries in asbestos-exposure cases, Garrett said. Dryer felts are unique to the paper industry, so Holdsworth’s situation wasn’t as common as some of the more ubiquitous cases of asbestos exposure from the likes of pipe covering or insulation, but it was not the first time Scapa Waycross or other Scapa subsidiaries have been sued for asbestos exposure from dryer felts.

“The history of asbestos use is one of this country’s greatest scandals, and we’re still dealing with it today,” Garrett said.

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