When I first started representing people injured from exposure to asbestos, I was blessed to meet Vincent (Vinny) Cudiner. Vinny was a Local 12 insulator out of New York City who lived in New Jersey with his family. When I first met Vinny , he had been diagnosed with mesothelioma , a form of cancer only caused by exposure to asbestos. In those days, the treatment options were very limited and Vinny was acutely aware that the candle on his life was rapidly burning down.
Vincent ,even after diagnosis ,was an extremely handsome and charismatic man. While Vinny had a limited education, he may very well have been a genius and was one of the kindest and most compassionate men I would ever meet. Vinny was truly a Renaissance man in every sense of the word with a character that even had the power over death for a while. The diagnosis of mesothelioma was a window through which I could see the strength and wisdom of this extraordinary person.
Even before being diagnosed with mesothelioma, Vinny made it part of his life mission to insure that others would not have to work with asbestos. After learning from Dr Irving Selikoff about the dangers of the products that he unwittingly worked with all of his life, Vinny took off from work and spent months in the US Patent office researching the ingredients in insulation materials. After extensive research, Vinny eventually developed an asbestos substitute which was patented.
After Vinny was diagnosed with mesothelioma, he was determined that others in his trade should not meet the same circumstances. Instead of sitting home, Vinny toured the country with Dr. Selikoff to speak with workers about the need to protect themselves from the asbestos already in place.
Vinny was a man who could see things in people and even nature that other men did not see. I can recall walking with Vinny along the shore of the Hudson River one day not too far from his home. While we were walking, he bent over and picked up a piece of wood that washed onto the shore and carried it home. When I asked Vinny why he chose that piece of wood, he responded that he could see something inside that he wanted to explore . The next time I came to visit , Vinny proudly pointed to a beautiful carving of a sailboat which he had created out of that very piece of wood.
Some months later when Vinny’s disease had progressed, he called me and asked me to visit him at his home. At that point my family was going through a very difficult time. My wife was lying in a hospital bed with an affliction that threatened to take her eyesight. When I arrived at the house, Vinny indicated that he had heard about my wife and was going to will his eyes to her when he passed on. I was speechless and to this day I get tears in my eyes every time I think of that moment.
A few weeks later I received a telephone call from Vinny asking me if I would come visit him. At this point Vinny was very sick and very frail. It was his 65th birthday. When I met with Vinny, he told me that he knew he did not have long to live and wanted to thank me for all I had done. He also asked for my assurance that we would continue seek justice for his family after he was gone. The remainder of the story as a I recall it still weakens me in the knees. Vinny called each of his children into the room where he was lying one by one and spoke with them about what he expected from them and how he loved them. Lastly, he met alone with his beautiful wife Kari. During those final moments, Vinny expressed his eternal love and devotion to Kari, kissed her goodbye and closed his eyes for the final time.
I later learned that Vinny’s inner strength was for a time stronger than the forces that eventually took him. As the legend goes, so long as Vinny could live to 65 his family would have better benefits when he eventually passed. While Vinny had for a time power over death, he certainly knew how to live life.
We filed a lawsuit on behalf on Vincent and his wife Kari in the New Jersey Superior Court. While he was alive, Vinny appeared for his deposition to answer questions about his asbestos exposure and his losses. The defense attorneys could not help but like him. The deposition turned into a course on asbestos products that no attorney in the room expected. Vinny would not only tell the attorneys what the product was used for, he would tell them the chemical composition, where it was made and even a little about the executives at their company. By the second day of his deposition, Vinny knew most of the lawyers by name and would often be found joking with them during breaks.
After Vinny, passed away the case was resolved very favorably. I felt like I kept my promise.
Many years later I often think of my friend and hero Vinny Cudiner and what he taught me about life, love and compassion. I only wish that Vinny would have had available to him the treatment options and the hope that others diagnosed with mesothelioma now have.