Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Asbestos Drilling Mud Verdict: Outrageous, Justified or Biased?

May 26, 2011

Smith County, MS Defendants Union Carbide and Chevron Phillips Chemical (CP Chem) are outraged with the recent Asbestos Drilling Mud verdict, while a great deal of public opinion, and the Smith County jury, are outraged at the companies.

One individual opined (The Clarion Ledger) that "The companies in this lawsuit knew the hazards of asbestos and continued to use it," said 'Brookhaven Bob.' "Therefore I think they should have to pay for their neglect to Mr. Brown, and the only way to keep it from happening to someone else is to hit the big companies where it hurts, their pocketbook."

Brown worked with asbestos drilling mud in the oil fields for several years in the 1980s, on rigs in Mississippi and offshore in the Gulf of Mexico. He was diagnosed with asbestosis at age 30 and is on oxygen 24 hours a day, said Allen Hossley, Brown's attorney.

Brown was allegedly exposed to asbestos supplied by Union Carbide and sold by Montello, Inc. to asbestos drilling mud companies and used as a drilling mud additive. The suit also alleged exposure to asbestos supplied by Johns Manville and sold by CP Chem, again as a drilling mud additive. Further, Brown asserted causes of action "based on inadequate warnings and the defective design of the defendants' asbestos products."

But Judge Eddie Bowen and the Smith County, Mississippi jury disagreed. (Almost nine percent, or 987 residents of Smith County have filed asbestos personal injury lawsuits; still, a motion to move the trial out of the county was denied.)

As well, Brown's doctors, including two pulmonologists, one internist and six radiologists, testified that Brown did not have asbestosis...

The trial, which began April 11, 2011, ended May 4, 2011 with a jury verdict in the amount of $11 million for future medical expenses, another $11 million for fear of future disease (in the lawsuit, Brown said he was "emotionally distressed due to a fear of developing asbestos cancer") and $300 million in punitive damages. The jury found 50 percent liability to Union Carbide and 50 percent liability to CP Chem.

A CP Chem spokesperson said that the verdict is not supported by the law nor evidence, which will make "solid grounds" to appeal the Mississippi Supreme Court, adding that the verdict is "outrageous," reported The Associated Press. In a statement, CP Chem said, "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."

On May 10, Union Carbide attorneys discovered that the father of Judge Bowen had previously filed two asbestos personal injury actions in Mississippi, against Union Carbide—one in 1989 and the other in 1992. Those suits also alleged that the plaintiffs contracted asbestosis due to workplace asbestos exposure, fear of future disease, etc.

The difference with these previous lawsuits and the suit in May 2011, is that the claims were settled with Union Carbide and Johns Mansville.

On May 16, 2011, Union Carbide filed a recusal motion Thomas Brown vs Phillips 66 Company because Judge Bowen had a personal bias and prejudice regarding Union Carbide and CP Chem throughout the trial. The motion says, "Put simply, the Mississippi Supreme Court has held that when a reasonable person knowing all of the facts and/or considering the totality of the circumstances might harbor doubts about the judge's impartiality, then recusal is appropriate, necessary and required."