A 48 year-old Mississippi man who was exposed to asbestos at work received a $322 million verdict in May. Thomas Brown Jr. used to work on oil drilling rigs in Mississippi as a “roughneck”, the term the locals use for someone who does hard-manual labor in a dangerous work environment.
Part of this labor included pouring 50-pound bags of additives into mud to speed up the drilling process. Unfortunately, Brown did not realize that these bags contained asbestos, and he now must wear an oxygen mask to assist his breathing patterns. He said that he uses the oxygen mask anywhere from 18 to 24 hours a day.
Brown sued two manufacturers and distributors of the asbestos-containing product, Union carbide Corp. and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. for failing to warn of the dangers of their product.
The defendants argued that since the plaintiff is illiterate, he could not prove that any failure to warn on the companies end led to his injuries. However Brown’s attorney rebutted that just because his client could not read does not mean that they could have used logos, pictures, or emblems to show the dangers of this product.
The warning labels were the size of a cell phone, but Brown’s attorney argued that this was too small for a 50-pound bag. “They needed a stronger warning in size, contrast, or colors, red or yellow highlighting,” he said.
Another lawyer for Brown told the jury that each defendant had a net worth of approximately $4 billion. The jury deliberated for two hours, which is relatively small for a trial that lasted almost three weeks long.
They awarded $11 million in compensatory damages, $11 million for pain and suffering and fear of cancer, and a whopping $300 million in punitive damages.
This verdict is the largest single plaintiff’s asbestos verdict in U.S. history.
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