Benzene trial still slated for April, for now

David Yates Mar. 30, 2010, 6:00am

A benzene case slated to start in early April will most likely go forward, despite defense objections that the case is not ready to be presented.

As the Southeast Texas Record reported last week, the trial of Carol Thompson vs. Univar USA is set to begin April 6.

On Thursday, March 25, attorneys for Univar asked Judge Bob Wortham to continue the case till June.

"This case is not ready for trial," said defense lawyer Robert Scott, adding that his fellow attorneys were awaiting a ruling from an appeals court and that several witnesses had yet to be deposed.

Judge Wortham did not make a ruling on Univar's motion for continuance, telling both sides "to get ready."

Since the suit was filed in February 2008, the case has bounced between several courts.

Originally, Judge Donald Floyd presided over the case, but the plaintiffs requested that case be transferred to Wortham's court so as to take advantage of an early April trial date, court papers say.

During the hearing, Scott said he objected then to the case being moved and bumped up for an early setting.

"Moving cases happens all the time in Jefferson County," Wortham told the attorneys, adding that he often tries other judge's cases.

Prior to the hearing, Wortham had expressed some concern, saying that "with all the hullabaloo going on" regarding new witnesses, the parties might be unprepared for their April setting, court papers say.

According to Univar's motion for continuance, the "hullabaloo" stems from more than two dozen new witnesses drummed up by the plaintiffs.

On March 5 plaintiff Carol Thompson, through her attorney, served an amended witness list which listed 29 new fact witnesses who had previously not been disclosed and who were identified as having knowledge of her late husband's work history, court papers show.

Although he did not make a ruling, Judge Wortham did not completely rule out the idea of continuing the case if it became apparent that case was indeed not ready for trial.

The case centers on the late John Thompson, who worked as an independent contractor for various local refineries during the 1960s and early 1970s.

His widow, Carol, claims he was negligently exposed to benzene - a chemical she alleges caused him to develop leukemia.

If the case goes to trial, Carol Thompson will ask jurors to award her damages for her husband's past and future medical expenses, lost wages, mental anguish, physical pain, disfigurement, loss of consortium and loss of household services.

She is represented by Provost Umphrey attorney Darren Brown.

Scott is an attorney for the Abrams, Scott & Bickley law firm.

Case No. E181-199

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