The Louisiana First Court of Appeals has upheld a trial court jury’s finding that despite being aware of the dangers of asbestos in its Louisiana riverboats, chemical plants, and oil refineries as early as 1937, ExxonMobil Corporation failed to implement any type of safety measures to protect its workers. The court affirmed a trial court’s 2006 judgment awarding substantial damages to the family of a former Exxon employee who died of mesothelioma, an asbestos-related cancer. Renee Melancon, a lawyer with Baron & Budd, P.C., who represented the Plaintiff, had this to say:
Exxon’s own documents reveal that the company knew that the use of asbestos insulation in the petroleum industry was hazardous to workers like our client. Exxon even outlined a strategy for minimizing asbestos exposure in its facilities in 1937, but just never bothered to follow through on the plan to protect its workers.
The Plaintiff, Bruce Spillman of Baton Rouge, worked on Exxon towboats from 1945 to 1949 and was exposed to asbestos when he spent time in the boats’ engine rooms. From 1949 until 1986, he worked as a helper, then a welder, in Exxon’s Baton Rouge oil refinery, where he continued to be exposed to pipes insulated with asbestos. Despite the 1949 warnings of its own industrial hygienist about asbestos, Exxon neither alerted its workers to any danger nor instructed them to wear masks. Mr. Spillman was diagnosed in 2005 with mesothelioma, a painful and extremely aggressive cancer that causes the lining around the lungs to thicken and harden. He died later the same year.
Exxon attempted to claim immunity from the lawsuit based on Louisiana workers’ compensation statutes. But, the appeals court rejected that argument and reaffirmed its earlier ruling that Louisiana’s Workers’ Compensation Act does not cover mesothelioma, and as a result does not bar suits by mesothelioma victims against their employers for claims that accrued before 1975. The law was amended to cover that disease in 1975. In addition, the court held that the Plaintiff’s evidence was more than sufficient to establish that Exxon knew of the need to protect its workers from exposure to asbestos. The oil giant was responsible for exposing its employees to dangerously high levels of asbestos without any respiratory protection. Exxon worked hard to evade its legal responsibility in this case. Fortunately the powerful oil giant failed.
Source: PR Newswire
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