Mississippi Jury Awards $322M in Asbestos Lawsuit

By SHELIA BYRD | May 9, 2011

A jury has awarded $322 million to a Mississippi man who claimed he inhaled asbestos dust while mixing drilling mud sold and manufactured by Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Union Carbide Corp.

Allen Hossley, a Dallas attorney who represented Thomas C. Brown, said Friday he believes the verdict is the largest awarded in a single plaintiff’s asbestos case.

The jury awarded $300 million in punitive damages and $22 million in actual damages. The verdict was handed down Wednesday after more than two weeks of testimony.

Hossley said the jury found the companies liable for defectively designing their product and failing to provide an adequate warning to workers.

Brown, 48, has asbestosis and requires oxygen 24 hours a day, Hossley said.

“At the age of 16, he went into the oil field and for a period from 1979 to the mid-80s mixed asbestos drilling additive, and then 30 years later had this diagnosis,” Hossley said.

Hossley said the drilling mud was sold by Chevron Phillips Chemical and manufactured by Union Carbide.

“Although the asbestos was known to cause cancer and lung disease, CP Chem and Union Carbide continued to market these almost 100-percent-pure asbestos products long after they knew the dangers,” he said.

Attorney Alex Cosculluela said Chevron Phillips Chemical will appeal.

“We believe the verdict is not supported by either the facts in evidence or the testimony introduced at trial or the law in Mississippi,” Cosculluela said.

Marcy Croft, who represented Union Carbide, didn’t immediately return calls seeking comment, but the company issued a statement criticizing the verdict as outrageous.

“The credible medical evidence introduced at trial clearly demonstrates that, while Mr. Brown suffers from shortness of breath, such condition is not attributable to asbestos exposure,” the statement said.

Court documents showed the packaging of the drilling mud additives included a federally-mandated warning that it contained asbestos fibers and breathing the fibers could cause serious injury.

However, Brown couldn’t read or write when he started working in the fields. Defendants had tried to use that fact to shoot down one of his claims. They said because Brown couldn’t read, he couldn’t demonstrate the reliance on the package warning would have made a difference, according to court documents.

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