Judge tosses historic Mississippi asbestos verdict
A Mississippi judge has overturned what may have been the largest jury verdict ever awarded to a single plaintiff in an asbestos lawsuit.
In May 2011, Thomas “Tony” Brown Jr., a former oil field worker, was awarded $322 million dollars for future medical expenses, pain and suffering, and punitive damages.
Lawyers for Brown, who was diagnosed with asbestosis and is on oxygen 24-hours a day, argued that that he was exposed to asbestos dust while mixing drilling mud sold by Chevron Phillips Chemical and manufactured by Union Carbide Corporation. The defendants argued that because Brown couldn’t read or write when he started working in the oil fields at age 16, he didn’t deserve protection under a Mississippi law that required the companies to inform workers of the known dangers of asbestos drilling products.
The jury agreed with Brown and found the two companies liable for defective product design and failing to provide an adequate warning to Brown.
The two companies appealed the verdict to the Mississippi Supreme Court, claiming that the trial judge, Smith County Circuit Judge Eddie Bowen, had a conflict of interest because his parents had asbestos legal claims, including one against Union Carbide.
According to the Laurel Leader-Call, lawyers for Union Carbide argued in a brief that “Bowen demonstrated clear bias, operated with apparent prejudice, acted with a demeanor that was openly hostile to Defendants’ counsel and witnesses in the presence of the jury, and made questionable rulings of law.”
Union Carbide also charged that Bowen refused to allow the court reporter to transcribe bench conferences and or to allow defendants access to the audio tapes of those discussion, according to the newspaper.
In October, the higher court disqualified Bowen and appointed special Judge William Coleman Jr., who vacated the jury verdict in a one-paragraph order filed in Smith County Circuit Court on Dec. 27.