The manager of a Denver-area apartment complex has been sentenced to federal prison for exposing residents and an undetermined number of additional people to asbestos.
John Tom Williams is the director of WillMax Capital Management Inc., a Denver-based company that owns the Overlook at Mile High apartment complex in Denver. According to the Denver Post, Williams and his company supervised a remodeling project at the complex in January 2014 when asbestos was not properly contained and released into the air.
Not only were at least 108 tenants still living in the buildings during the renovations that caused asbestos to become airborne while floors were being sanded, but the company promoted these particular buildings as “within walking distance to Pepsi Center” and the Sports Authority Field at Mile High Stadium. During the time this renovation project was underway, the Denver Broncos played two playoff games at the nearby stadium including an AFC championship game attended by more than 77,000 fans.
Williams’ attorney told the Denver Post in 2016, “We have no information that anyone suffered any harm and we’ve agreed to medical monitoring to make sure this never happens again.” Medical monitoring may lead to earlier diagnosis with diseases caused by asbestos exposure, such as mesothelioma cancer. Mesothelioma is an especially slow-developing form of cancer and often does not become symptomatic until decades after asbestos exposure. This means that the 108 residents of the Overlook at Mile High complex should be medically monitored for many years. For the tens of thousands of football fans who may have been exposed to asbestos in Denver in 2014, however, it is highly unlikely that they even have knowledge of the potential exposure—so they won’t know to alert their doctors to this possible risk factor for mesothelioma.
In 2016, the Denver Post reported that WillMax had already spent nearly $1 million in asbestos exposure settlements to apartment residents and for advanced training for their staff to minimize the threat of asbestos exposure on future projects.
Earlier this week, Williams and WillMax were forced to face the legal repercussions of the negligent asbestos exposure. Williams was fined $100,000 and sentenced to eight months in federal prison, along with a year of conditional release after his prison term. WillMax was sentenced to five years’ probation on a felony charge. The judge overseeing the case, senior federal Judge Lewis Babcock, said during the sentencing, “This is not civil negligence. This is criminal negligence.”
At one point in the proceedings, an attorney for Williams attempted to blame the asbestos exposure on the subcontractors hired to sand floors during the renovation. Legally, however, the ultimate responsibility for the safety of these apartments and the worksite lies with WillMax. Additionally, one angry resident, Jack Girard, told reporters that it was no secret that the buildings contained asbestos and that residents were even told not to drill holes in walls or floors because of exposure risks. Girard said, “He’s trying to delegate the blame to (the contractor). He has terrible character. He lied to us.”
Though Williams did show some remorse in the courtroom, stating, “My shame and regret for this is profound,” many of the residents who suffered asbestos exposure still believe he should have faced harsher penalties. Jack Girard testified that this exposure happened more than two years ago, and “The fact that (Williams) has not seen a jail cell is appalling.” Another resident, Katelyn Eitzel, told Williams, “I don’t think you should be allowed to run apartment complexes anymore.”
There is no doubt that exposure to asbestos causes serious and often fatal health conditions including mesothelioma, which is why there are strict laws in place to prevent exposure. Individuals who allow others to be exposed to asbestos without proper protection can and should be held accountable for this exposure. Our asbestos exposure lawyers have extensive experience defending the rights of victims of toxic exposure, and we are dedicated to ensuring that our clients recover full and just compensation. To learn more about asbestos lawsuits, contact us to schedule a free legal consultation.