Arizona couple crosses state lines to file benzene suit

David Yates Aug. 14, 2007, 8:40am

Arizona residents Bobby and Nellye Hall are suing Arco of the Panhandle Inc., along with 19 other petrochemical companies, for manufacturing and distributing benzene and other toxic chemicals to the unaware public and for conspiring inflict Bobby with an "illness," most likely leukemia.

Through Houston attorney Justin Shrader, the couple filed their personal injury lawsuit with the Jefferson County District Court on Aug. 13.

Shrader also filed a benzene lawsuit on the behalf of an Oklahoma couple with Jefferson County on the same day. The two suits mirror one another.

According to the plaintiffs' original petition, "for many years" Hall was exposed to "dangerous levels of toxic and carcinogenic chemicals," including benzene-containing products and other "toxic" solvents.

"Hall's exposures to these toxic and carcinogenic chemicals and substances, distributed, marketed, and/or manufactured by defendants…was a legal cause of his illness," the suit said, adding that the defendants were aware of the dangers associated with benzene exposure.

The U.S. Department of Labor Occupational Safety & Health Administration (OSHA) defines benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is produced by the burning of natural products.

"It is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels," the OSHA Web site said. "Benzene is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, pesticides, and other chemicals. Research has shown benzene to be a carcinogen (cancer-causing). With exposures from less than five years to more than 30 years, individuals have developed, and died from, leukemia."

Along with Arco, the six-count suit names oil conglomerates such as Exxon, Shell and Valero as defendants, and faults all 20 defendants with negligence, strict liability, premise liability, defendant's liability, misrepresentation and conspiracy and gross negligence.

The suit does not give details concerning Hall's past employment, but does ask the suit's presiding judge, 58th District Judge Bob Wortham, to prohibit the suit from being removed from his court and placed in federal court.

"Removal is improper," the suit said. "The federal courts lack subject matter jurisdiction over this action."

The plaintiffs are suing for past and future mental anguish, physical impairment and disfigurement, pain and medical expenses, loss of earning capacity, plus recovery of pre and post-judgment interest.

Furthermore, the plaintiffs are also suing for loss of support, companionship and consortium, and are also seeking punitive and exemplary damages to "punish the defendants," the suit said.

The couple is demanding a trial by jury.

Case No. A179-808

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