Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Continued Fallout over Massive Drilling Mud Lawsuit Settlement

June 10, 2011

Raleigh, NC There continues to be much fallout with regard to the recent multi-million dollar drilling mud award to a 48-year-old man who claimed to have inhaled asbestos dust while mixing drilling mud. Thomas C. Brown is now disabled and was awarded $22 million in actual damages by a jury in an asbestos-drilling lawsuit.

But the plaintiff was also awarded $300 million in punitive damages, for a total of $322 million.

Since the decision was handed down, the defendants in the asbestos drilling mud case—Union Carbide and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co.—have gone beyond merely appealing the decision. They want it tossed out altogether, given recent revelations that the Mississippi judge in the case failed to declare a potential conflict.

Specifically, according to the May 19 issue of the Laurel Leader-Call, Judge Eddie H. Bowen's parents had been previously involved in an asbestos case deemed similar to that involving plaintiff Brown. Howard J. Bowen, identified as Judge Bowen's father, had filed a lawsuit against Union Carbide together with other defendants in 1989 and 1992. The elder Bowen, along with his wife, sought $1 million for emotional distress.

Bowen Sr. claimed he had been exposed to asbestos at his place of employ. He is reported to have settled with Union Carbide. Due to the similarity of the elder Bowen's situation and Brown's oil drilling mud case, defendants in the current dispute want the $322 million verdict tossed, the case thrown out, and for Judge Bowen to recuse himself from all current and future cases dealing with alleged asbestos contamination.

And there is more comment weighed against Brown's asbestos drilling mud case and the award.

An editorial carried in the May 12 issue of the Chattanooga Times Free Press takes exception to the massive punitive damage award. A punitive damage award easily 13 times greater than the actual damage award, says the Free Press, is "jackpot justice."

The editorial states further that punitive damages should be proportionate to the actual damages awarded for medical expenses, loss of income, suffering and the like. The Free Press notes that lawmakers in Tennessee are considering limits on non-economic damages in such cases, a cap the Free Press deems as appropriate.

Plaintiff Thomas Brown claimed that inhaling asbestos dust—asbestos serving as an aspect of drilling mud composition—was responsible for his shortness of breath. The jury award is expected to be appealed to the Mississippi Supreme Court.