In Hood v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., et al., a Texas jury awarded a noticeably high verdict of $1.5 million in punitive damages and over $6.7 million in compensatory damages to Virgil Hood, a career mechanic diagnosed with Acute Myelogenous Leukemia. Plaintiffs alleged toxic exposure to benzene-containing products over the course of Mr. Hood's career as he worked with various paints and thinners from 1973 to 1996. The jury verdict in Hood v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., et al. highlights the recent shift in the world of civil litigation, as asbestos-centric Plaintiffs' firms refocus their fields of practice to include benzene litigation.
With a decline in the number of new diagnoses of mesothelioma, and in light of increasing government oversight and regulation, a growing number of well-known asbestos firms, including Waters, Krause & Paul, Locks Law Firm, Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood, and Brayton Purcell, are pursuing cases of alleged chemical and benzene exposure in the fields of personal injury and products liability. Significantly, as in Hood v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., et al., these asbestos firms are using traditional asbestos tactics and strategies to achieve high jury verdicts. There, Plaintiffs successfully argued that the sole remaining Defendant in the case, DuPont, knew that benzene exposure could cause bone marrow related illnesses, including leukemia, and failed to remove benzene from its own products despite advising other companies to remove benzene from their own paints.
In Hood v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., et al., Plaintiffs were represented by Waters, Krause & Paul, a law firm which traditionally handled asbestos litigation. Poole Shaffery has frequently defended asbestos-related matters brought by Waters, Krause & Paul, and as recently as May 2015, Poole Shaffery successfully moved for a verdict of nonsuit against Waters, Krause & Paul in Poplawski v. Abacus Roof Corp. There, Plaintiff alleged he developed peritoneal mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing products while working in the construction industry in Southern California in the 1960s and 1970s.
However, with the decreasing number of new cases of asbestos exposure, and the increase in government regulation, plaintiffs' firms are forced to explore other aspects toxic tort litigation. As the $8.2 million jury verdict in Hood v. E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co., et al., signals, traditionally asbestos-centric plaintiffs' law firms are shifting their area of focus to include cases of alleged benzene and other chemical exposure. Asbestos firms have historically drawn direct comparisons between the development of mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos. It now seems as though traditional asbestos firms will strive to similarly associate the development of leukemia with exposure to chemicals.