Drywaller Awarded $27 Million for Asbestos Exposure

Man installing drywall on a ceiling


A drywall worker who built houses during the California housing boom in the 1970s, when asbestos was used in virtually every type of building material, has won a $27 million jury award for a cancer caused by the toxic substance.

When he was still in high school in 1967, Michael Sutherland got a job as a drywaller and continued working on residential and office buildings in San Diego County for over 25 years. Sutherland would rush from job to job, particularly during the housing boom in California, barely noticing the clouds of dust around him.

“With all the trades working on top of each other trying to finish one job and move on to the next, it was always dusty,” he said. “It wasn’t until I became a lead maintenance mechanic at University of California San Diego and attended a class on job safety in 2003 that I learned that so many of the materials used on the jobs back then contained asbestos.”

That included stucco, joint compound, fire-rated drywall, roofing materials and cement pipe.

In May 2012, Sutherland was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a particularly deadly form of cancer caused by asbestos that attacks the lung’s lining.

He sued over 30 companies that made the various products he was exposed to and several of them settled with him.

By the time of the trial, only Highland Stucco and Lime Products was left as a defendant. Sutherland’s attorney, John Caron of Worthington & Caron, argued that the stucco maker sold a dangerous product and didn’t warn about its dangers. 

Attorney John Caron headshot

Attorney John Caron

The company blamed the other companies and Sutherland himself. But the jury disagreed, ordering the company to pay $26.6 million for exposing Sutherland and the public to asbestos.

“I was surprised to learn at trial how much asbestos was in stucco,” Sutherland said. “Even though I rarely worked hands-on with the stuff, I was exposed to dust when the bags were dumped into large mixers and when we had to scrape off areas of over-spray that came into the homes through windows and doors.”

Sutherland, who can no longer work or enjoy his lifelong passion of surfing, is dedicated to supporting mesothelioma research.

“With a little luck, I’ll be around long enough to benefit from the research they do with my support,” he said.

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