Testimony continues in possible billion dollar asbestos trial against DuPont

David Yates Feb. 27, 2008, 5:37am

DuPont was well aware asbestos in the work place was killing its workers in the early 1960s, said plaintiff's expert Dr. Edwin Holstein, as testimony continued in the trial of Willis Whisnat Jr. et al vs. DuPont De Nemours.

The trial began Thursday, Feb. 21 in Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court and is expected to conclude sometime in early March.

Whisnat, a pipefitter who smoked throughout his adult life, worked at DuPont's Sabine Works facility in Beaumont back in 1966 as an independent contractor, where he was allegedly exposed to enough asbestos fibers to contract mesothelioma - a cancerous lung condition.

After Whisnat's died in the late 1990s, his family joined an ongoing class-action suit against DuPont and several other oil and chemical companies, which was first filed in the Jefferson County District Court on June 4, 1998. The class members claim DuPont negligently and maliciously exposed workers to asbestos when the company knew asbestos dust and fibers created health hazards.

According to medical testimony, Whisnat's chest was riddled with bone-eating tumors, a condition the defense is attempting to link to Whisnat's brief stint at DuPont.

In his opening remarks, plaintiff's attorney Glen Morgan said DuPont's asbestos policies during the '60s, '50s and '40s were so malicious that the company's "right to exist should be taken away."

Morgan is a partner in the Reaud, Morgan & Quinn law firm and represents the family of the late Willis Whisnat .

Asbestos, a naturally occurring mineral, is an excellent fire retardant and was wildly used by industrial companies, like DuPont, in the early decades of the 20th century to insulate pipes, according to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.

"The Defendant (DuPont) knew of the toxicity of asbestos prior to the first exposure of Decedent (Whisnat) to the defective and unreasonably dangerous material on its premises," Morgan wrote in Whisnat's suit.

Morgan continues by writing, "Plaintiffs will not seek an amount in excess of $4,100,000,000, excluding pre- and post-judgment interest and costs of court, as compensation for Plaintiffs' damages."

If Morgan has his way and DuPont is forced out of existence, more than 60,000 people would lose their jobs, according to employment figures on DuPont's web site. However, Morgan did say during opening remarks that he would not ask jurors to award his clients billions of dollars.

Morgan continued by comparing the chemical company to killers on trial who deserve, in his opinion, to be executed. "There are some corporations whose rights � to exist should be taken away."

The plaintiffs maintain that Dupont knew about the dangers of asbestos as early as 1940, but chose to conceal their findings and focus on a defense to protect the company from lawsuits rather than implement policies that would save the lives of its workers.

DuPont's attorneys argue that its 1940s studies only focused on people who were "heavily" exposed to asbestos on a daily basis, like miners for example, not chemical plant workers.

DuPont also argues that the chemical company was a consumer not a producer of asbestos-containing products, placing product liability on the seller - and took steps to protect its employees from asbestos before OSHA implemented asbestos guidelines in 1972.

In addition, DuPont contends Whisnat was an independent contractor, not a DuPont employee, and therefore Whisnat's employer, B.F. Shaw, was directly responsible for his safety. And even though he was not a DuPont employee, the company still protected Whisnat from asbestos by requiring pipe workers to wear respirators.

DuPont protected its other workers by barricading asbestos-laced pipe worksites.

The plaintiffs, however, argue that asbestos fibers can drift beyond the barricade, which only consisted of yellow caution tape.

Dr. Holstein testified that an asbestos fiber is thousands of times smaller than a human hair and can float in the air for hours.

DuPont is represented locally by the Mehaffy Weber law firm.

Case No. E159-183-Q

More News