Chem worker's family seeks punitive damages in benzene suit

Steve Korris Apr. 25, 2007, 12:00pm

Alfred Jeanis worked 38 years and lived 26 years more, and now his widow and son seek damages for his untimely death.

Shirley Jeanis of Port Arthur and Jimmy Jeanis of Dallas sued 28 companies in Jefferson County Circuit Court April 20, claiming they exposed Alfred Jeanis to benzene while he worked as a welder and pipefitter.

Attorney Tina Bradley, of the Law Offices of Herschel Hobson in Beaumont, wrote that Jeanis died of acute myelogenous leukemia in 2006.

Bradley wrote that he worked from 1942 to 1980 at chemical plants in Jefferson County.

She claimed punitive damages against five defendants she identified as his employers - SFB Construction, Texaco Inc., United States Steel, Washington International, and Ford, Bacon & Davis.

"The employer Defendants knew for decades that exposure to the chemicals benzene and products containing benzene and/or their process streams could cause disease of the hematopoietic system and still allowed workers like Alfred Jeanis to be exposed to and use these toxic and cancerous chemicals...," she wrote.

She wrote that the employers were guilty of gross negligence.

"As a result of said gross negligence, plaintiffs assert a claim for punitive damages," she wrote.

She claimed exemplary damages against all defendants, writing that their boards and managers authorized, commanded, performed or recklessly tolerated exposure to benzene.

Bradley alleged fraud, writing that defendants misrepresented risks or remained silent about them.

She wrote that the acts and omissions of defendants proximately caused Jeanis's disease and untimely death.

"...[D]efendants released these chemicals into the ambient air knowing that such chemical emissions would travel outside and throughout their premises," she wrote.

"A substantial portion of such chemical emissions was unnecessary and, therefore, such emissions could have been substantially reduced...," she wrote.

She added a single count of strict liability against U.S. Steel, claiming it shipped "drip oil," a product that Radiator Specialty Company put into a product called Liquid Wrench.

The suit does not claim damages from Radiator Specialty.

Bradley also claimed damages under a doctrine of "res ipsa loquitur," which means, "the thing speaks for itself."

She wrote that if the defendants had not been guilty of negligence, Jeanis would not have sustained damages.

Along with the five employers, the widow and son sued Chevron Phillips, Atlantic Richfield, Beazer East, Chevron USA, DuPont, Exxon Mobil, Flint Hills Resources, Goodrich Corporation, Goodyear Tire and Rubber, Gulf Oil, Huntsman Petrochemical, Koch Industries, Koppers Inc., Neches Butane Products, Oxychem Corporation, PD Glycol, PPG, Texaco Refining and Marketing, Total Petrochemicals, Uniroyal, Unocal, and Wyeth Holdings.

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