I have been asked by several lawyers from outside the firm what direction our Toxic Torts Section will now take with the BP litigation beginning to wind down. The answer is there will not be a significant slowdown of activity in the Section. The lawyers will be placing emphasis on serious injury occupational toxic exposure cases while continuing our work on large environmental disasters which unfortunately continue to occur. Occupational exposure is a major threat to the health and safety of our work force, and oftentimes it can take years to develop illnesses related to an exposure. These can be very difficult cases and selection is extremely important. Below are some of the cases our lawyers are currently investigating around the country:
Severe Lung Disease: Perhaps no other condition is more prevalent in the occupational setting than severe lung disease. On a daily basis, workers can be exposed to heavy metal dust or extremely toxic substances that over time render their lungs completely useless. Our toxic torts section is reviewing cases where exposure to chemicals or substances caused serious lung disease (either of the obstructive or restrictive variation), permanent lung scarring, a lung transplant or death. Some examples of conditions include:
o Mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos. There is no cure for mesothelioma, and, oftentimes, the disease does not manifest until decades after exposure.
o Berylliosis or Chronic Beryllium Disease (sometimes misdiagnosed as sarcoidosis) as a result of exposure to beryllium or metals alloyed with beryllium. Beryllium is arguably the most toxic substance on earth, and it is manufactured and used in a variety of fields as an alloy in copper, aluminum, nickel, and as a component in tech devices, golf clubs, x-ray machines, and in specialty air planes and rockets. Berylliosis can cause complete failure of the lungs, where death can occur without a lung transplant.
o Bronchiolitis Obliterans (also called “popcorn lung”). This is another dreadful disease that causes complete lung failure, necessitating either a lung transplant or death. The condition has been known to develop due to occupational exposure to diacetyl, which is a flavoring additive in popcorn, candies, crackers, chocolate, deserts, food mixes, syrups, sauces, soft drinks, chewing gum, ice cream, butter and as a flavoring agent for coffee. Aside from diacetyl, bronchiolitis obliterans can also result from exposure to high levels of fiberglass and styrene.
o Pulmonary Fibrosis. Pulmonary fibrosis can be a very serious disease that can cause lung failure, the need for a lung transplant and death. Upon diagnosis, a physician may perform a bronchoscopy that reveals the presence of metal dusts and materials in the lungs or fibrosis that caused the disease.
• Cancer Caused By Toxic Exposure: Another major focus for this group will be on cancer caused by toxic exposure. There are a number of extremely dangerous toxins in the workplace that can cause harm to workers. Some of the cases we are investigating involve the following scenarios:
o Benzene: Benzene is one of the most toxic substances on the planet, and it is known to cause a rare blood cancer called Acute Myeloid Leukemia (“AML”, also called Acute Myelogenous Leukemia) in workers exposed to products containing benzene, including paints, a number of solvents, oil, gas, resins, brake fluids, floor treatment chemicals, and in commercial cleaners (particularly in carpet cleaners), to name a few.
o Formaldehyde: Formaldehyde is a known carcinogen, and medical research has found that the chemical causes sinonasal and nasopharyngeal cancers.
o Trichloroethylene: Trichloroethylene (TCE) is a chlorinated solvent once widely used as a metal degreaser, dry cleaning agent, chemical intermediate and extract. A known carcinogen, TCE use has declined significantly since the late 1980s but the effects of handling the dangerous solvent can still manifest today. Kidney cancer is the illness of primary concern.
For more than a decade, our Toxic Torts Section has been one of the most successful environmental groups that represent Plaintiffs in the nation. The cases it works on are often extremely challenging and costly to litigate, but they are also some of the most important because they hold bad actors responsible for endangering our citizens with toxic substances. Some of the Section’s past successes include:
• The Private Litigant Oil Spill Cases: Rhon Jones served as a steering committee member and was a key player in negotiations that brokered an uncapped, private settlement that BP currently values in excess of $11 billion. Lawyers in our section have represented thousands of individuals across the Gulf of Mexico and recovered millions in compensation.
• The State of Alabama and Governmental Oil Spill Settlements: The Section was responsible for litigating and negotiating the State of Alabama’s $2.3 billion settlement with BP in what is considered to be one of the most significant pieces of litigation to ever touch Alabama. Rhon Jones also assisted in the larger governmental settlement negotiations, which when including Alabama’s portion, was valued to be $18.7 billion and the largest environmental settlement in United States history.
• The Monsanto Settlement: The Section brokered the $700 million Monsanto settlement. The settlement was the consequence of Monsanto exposing thousands of citizens in Aniston, Ala., to PCB, and is the largest private individual environmental settlement in United States history.
• The TVA Coal Ash Settlement: The Section played a leadership role in the TVA coal ash litigation. Before the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the TVA coal ash spill was considered one of the largest environmental disasters in United States history. The case settled for $27.8 million.
• The Hot Fuel Litigation: The Section held a steering committee position in the national Hot Fuel MDL against the largest oil companies in the world over the sale of motor fuel. The cases survived class certification, and settlements currently exceed $20 million.
• The Carbon Black Litigation: The Section achieved numerous settlements and a $20 million-plus verdict that survived numerous appeals over carbon black pollution contamination in Alabama and Oklahoma.
A number of significant, confidential settlements, including cases involving property contamination, economic losses, and environmental product defects.
Presently, the Section is comprised of six lawyers (four principals and two associates) and 18 support staff personnel. I will set out below a little more information about the lawyers:
• Rhon Jones: Rhon has practiced with the firm for more than 20 years and has played a role in settlements totaling $30 billion on a wide variety of environmental and non-environmental disputes. He is the section head of our Toxic Torts group, and his record-setting performances have been chronicled in publications across the country, including The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Lawdragon, Super Lawyers, and Best Lawyers, to name a few. Based on his accomplishments, Rhon is arguably the top environmental attorney representing Plaintiffs in America.
• John Tomlinson: John, a Principal, joined Beasley Allen in 2002 and was a key negotiator in the landmark, multi-billion dollar Deepwater Horizon oil spill private settlement. Prior to joining the Section, John represented clients defrauded by banks and other financial institutions, and recovered millions in compensation while working in our Firm’s Consumer Fraud Section. In 2010 and again in 2013, John was selected as Beasley Allen’s Lawyer of the Year in the Toxic Torts Section.
• Chris Boutwell: Chris joined Beasley Allen in 2008 and is a Principal with the Section. Chris has represented clients against some of the largest chemical companies in the nation on property contamination disputes, and he played a major role in structuring the oil spill steering committee’s environmental case. He is currently lead attorney on behalf of consumers in a class action against manufacturers and retailers that deceptively advertise their “flushable” wipes as flushable. He is an AV-rated attorney, is a recognized “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers for the last three years, and has been designated lawyer of the Year in the Section in 2011 and 2015.
• Parker Miller: Parker joined the firm in 2008 and is a Principal in the Section. Parker served as Beasley Allen’s second chair to the oil spill steering committee, and was co-lead litigator on behalf of the State of Alabama in its $2.3 billion oil spill case against BP. He also held a leadership role in the Hot Fuel MDL in Kansas, and has successfully represented clients in a wide variety of significant cases, including environmental product defect and personal injury. He is an AV-rated attorney, a designated “Rising Star” by Super Lawyers, and has been profiled by Law360 as one of the top lawyers in the nation younger than 40. He was selected as Lawyer of the Year for the Section in 2012 and 2014.
• Grant Cofer: Grant joined the firm in 2012 as an Associate and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. He has previously served as co-counsel on behalf of local governments and municipalities in the oil spill litigation, where he worked to recover millions in compensation for his clients. In addition, Grant has spent a significant amount of time counseling businesses and individuals affected by the oil disaster. He also played a major role in the Hot Fuel MDL.
• Ryan Kral: Ryan is a graduate of the University of Alabama School of Law and our newest Associate. Since joining Beasley Allen, Ryan has spent a significant portion of his time representing clients devastated by the Deepwater Horizon oil spill. In addition, Ryan is very active in the “flushable wipes” class action litigation in Florida, and he has previously worked extensively in the Hot Fuel MDL.
Sandra Walters is the Section Head Administrator and she does an excellent job in that important role. There are too many support staff personnel to mention them individually. I will say, however, that they have done outstanding work and are most valuable to the Section. We are excited about our Toxic Torts Section’s focus on severe injury occupational exposure. If you have any questions about the cases we are investigating, contact Rhon Jones or Parker Miller at 800-898-2034 or by email at Rhon.Jones@beasleyallen.com and Parker.Miller@beasleyallen.com.
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