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Feb. 25, 2024

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$16 million verdict upheld in Camas asbestos case

Camas paper mill employee died of mesothelioma in 2021

By , Columbian staff writer

The Washington Court of Appeals recently upheld a $16.67 million jury verdict in favor of Sherrie Holdsworth, who lost her husband, Kevan — a former Camas paper mill employee — to mesothelioma in 2019.

Kevan Holdsworth’s cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos from paper mill “dryer felts” sold by Scapa Waycross Inc., his family alleged. He worked in the Camas mill, which changed ownership several times over the years, from 1964 to 2001, according to Columbian archives.

Following his death in 2021, a King County Superior Court jury ruled in favor of Sherrie Holdsworth after a four-week trial and awarded the damages.

Attorneys for Scapa did not immediately respond to requests for comment on the appeals court decision.

“We’re grateful that the appeals court recognized the strength of the evidence against Scapa and preserved the jury’s determination that Kevan and Sherrie were wronged,” attorney Luke Garrett, of Schroeter Goldmark & Bender, said in a statement to the press. Garrett represented the Holdsworth family.

“Scapa’s asbestos-containing products were proven to have contributed to Kevan’s mesothelioma, and Scapa should be held accountable,” Garrett continued. “We admire Sherrie’s strength and resilience through this process of obtaining justice for her late husband, and while this outcome can’t undo the pain of losing Kevan to mesothelioma, we hope that this case brings some closure to this difficult chapter of their lives.”

The verdict was described as the largest asbestos verdict in King County and the second largest in Washington, according to Schroeter Goldmark & Bender.

The family brought the case against Scapa in 2019. The company manufactured and sold dryer felts containing asbestos to the mill until the late 1970s, according to Columbian archives. Dryer felts are like absorbent conveyor belts, which carry big sheets of wet paper through a series of heated rollers to dry paper. It’s the last step in the paper manufacturing process.

Kevan Holdsworth worked on the mill’s paper machine cleanup crew from 1970 to 1976. Part of his responsibilities was regularly cleaning these dryer felts with compressed air, according to Columbian archives.

The family alleged Scapa did not test its products for asbestos release, issue warnings or label its products regarding asbestos content.

Attorneys for Scapa argued there was no direct evidence that Kevan Holdsworth was exposed to asbestos from a Scapa dryer felt, noting neither he nor his co-workers could definitively testify he interacted with a known Scapa dryer felt, according to the appeals court decision.

The decision, written by Judge Cecily C. Hazelrigg, said the attorneys for Holdsworth presented “more than sufficient evidence from which a jury could decide that he was exposed to asbestos based on both his direct contact with Scapa’s asbestos-containing dryer felts when he participated in blow downs and felt replacements” and what was called “bystander exposure.”

It went on to say, “Not only does the evidence lead to reasonable inference that Holdsworth was directly exposed to Scapa’s asbestos-containing felts, but expert testimony also established that Holdsworth was further exposed to asbestos from Scapa’s products even when he was not working specifically with them.”

The three-judge panel also determined there was sufficient evidence to prove his “exposure was a substantial factor to his development of mesothelioma, by way of both lay and expert testimony.”

“Even without relying upon reasonable inferences in Holdsworth’s favor, this was substantial evidence to support the jury’s verdict, and we decline to disturb it,” the panel concluded.

The date of Kevan Holdsworth’s death was corrected in this story.