A jury awarded a former shipyard employee $25 million Thursday in his lawsuit against Exxon for asbestos-related medical problems.
The verdict, which followed a two-week Circuit Court trial, was one of the largest jury verdicts ever handed down in Virginia.
Bert Minton, 72, of Carolton, worked on 17 Exxon commercial oil tankers as a shipfitter and then a repair supervisor at Newport News Shipbuilding in the 1960s and ’70s. He contacted mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer that doctors said he contracted by breathing billions of asbestos fibers while working at the shipyard.
Minton’s attorney, Bobby Hatten, said Minton has a life expectancy of about two more years and faces a painful death. Both of Minton’s lungs were removed and cleared of cancer material, then replaced, in 2009, Hatten said.
“Exxon got a good, old-fashioned horse whipping is what it is,” Hatten told the Daily Press.
Minton chose to sue Exxon, the ship owner, rather than the parts supplier, which is target of dozens of similar cases brought annually.
The lawsuit argued that Exxon knew about the problems with asbestos, and even developed rules to protect workers at refineries beginning in 1937, but did not warn shipyard workers or crewmembers. Hatten said the case proved Exxon knew about the cancer link since the 1940s, and knew by the 1960s that it caused mesothelioma.
Exxon countered that its ships were some of many that Morton worked on, that there was no firm evidence he was exposed to asbestos on an Exxon ship, and that the shipyard was responsible for worker safety.
The shipyard is immune to asbestos lawsuits from workers because of workman’s compensation law, while the Navy is immune under defense contracting law.
Asbestos is made with microscopic fibers with heat-resistant properties. It was used heavily on ships for decades, for such things as insulation, gaskets, seals and pumps.
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