Heavy-hitter trial lawyers striking out with asbestos pitch

David Yates Apr. 2, 2008, 8:00am

An asbestos suit filed by Provost Umphrey takes up about half of the courthouse record's vault.

Asbestos lawsuits tried in Jefferson County may no longer be a homerun, as two recent jury verdicts sent plaintiffs' lawyers from two renowned law firms back to the dugout on strikes.

First up to bat, attorney Bryan Blevins, a partner in the Provost Umphrey law firm.

On July 15, 2007, jurors dismissed the accusation that ExxonMobil "maliciously" and "negligently" caused Joyce Myers' cancerous death.

Representing Myers' children, Blevins petitioned jurors to award his clients millions of dollars in damages for their mother's death.
In January of 2000, Myers, a former pack-a-day smoker, died from mesothelioma - a type of lung cancer that can be related to asbestos exposure - at the age of 64.

Blevins had claimed Myers was exposed to asbestos as a child while helping her mother with the family laundry, a task that included washing the uniforms her father wore during his 22-year refinery career. From 1943 to 1965, Myers' father insulated pipes with asbestos at the Mobil Oil Refinery in Beaumont. Myers was living in her father's home for about 12 of those years.

In actuality, this was the second time this case has been tried. The first trial was in 2004. The Myers' children received a $500,000 verdict in their favor but asked for and were granted a new trial.
Blevins did not comment on why he sought a second trial after receiving a half-million dollar verdict.

Nonetheless, Blevins' July defeat did not slow him down. In the last year alone, Blevins has filed around 35 new asbestos lawsuits in Southeast Texas courts.

Myers' case had been severed from cause No. B150-374, a Provost Umphrey authored lawsuit with thousands of plaintiffs that is so massive that it fills more than a hundred boxes and takes up about half of the courthouse's district record vault.

In addition, Provost Umphrey attorneys tried the case of James E. Bailey et al vs. Pittsburgh Corning Corp. et al in 2004 -- a case also severed from cause No. B150-374 -- and received around a $500,000 verdict.

The jury in Bailey's trial had found that Mobil's negligently exposed him to asbestos, the proximate cause of his death.
However, Mobil appealed the judgment and Beaumont justices on the Ninth Court of Appeals reversed the ruling on Jan. 26, 2007.

Next up to the plate, plaintiff's attorney Glen Morgan, who recently went down swinging in a multi-million dollar asbestos trial. Morgan is a partner in the Reaud, Morgan & Quinn law firm.

Jurors in the asbestos trial of Willis Whisnant Jr. et al vs. DuPont returned with a verdict in favor of the defendant on March 25, 2008, leaving Morgan empty handed -- a far cry from the $130 million verdict he received in 2001, according to Texas Monthly Magazine.

At the beginning of the trial, Morgan said DuPont's past asbestos safety policies had been so atrocious that the company had no right to exist. Jurors did not agree, and found no negligence on the part of DuPont in the death of Whisnant, a former employee who died of an asbestos-related disease.

The trial focused on Whisnant, a former B.F. Shaw pipe fitter who worked at DuPont back in 1966 as an independent contractor. His family claims he was exposed to enough asbestos fibers to contract mesothelioma, a lung condition that took his life in 1999 at age 72.

Even though Whisnant was an independent contractor, jurors ruled that DuPont was still at least partially responsible for his safety, but decided that DuPont did not negligently contribute to his cancer by purposely exposing him to harmful asbestos.

After Whisnant's death, 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.

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