Benzene case ends in mistrial

David Yates May 12, 2010, 7:43am


After three weeks of heavy testimony and evidence, jurors tasked to decide if a benzene supplier was responsible for a man's death retired on Tuesday, May 11, to begin deliberations.

But before their verdict could be read, the jury was dismissed and the judge declared a mistrial.

Defense attorney Robert Scott, who represented Univar USA throughout the trial, asked Jefferson County Judge Bob Wortham to declare the mistrial on the grounds that not all of his exhibits were in evidence.

Judge Wortham, 58th District Court, honored his request. A date for a retrial has not been set and there is a possibility the case may be transferred back to its original court, Judge Donald Floyd's 172nd District Court.

Scott told the Southeast Texas Record that he and the other attorneys had been discussing the absent evidence during the four hours the jury was deliberating.

When it was announced that the jury had reached a decision, Scott said he asked for the mistrial before the verdict could be read and become official.

Scott said the jury had voted 11 to 1 in Univar's favor.

Despite defense objections that the case was not ready to go to trial, the plaintiffs successfully had the case transferred to Wortham's court in order to take advantage of an early trial setting.

Jurors were charged to conclude if Univar USA, a chemical supplier, was responsible for death of John Thompson, who was stricken with acute myeloid leukemia.

Thompson worked as an independent contractor at various local refineries during the 1960s and early 1970s, and routinely washed his hands in benzene - a habit which his widow, Carol, claims helped lead to his illness and eventual death.

During the trial, Univar argued it was Thompson's employers, including DuPont, that were responsible for how workers handled and used benzene.

However the plaintiffs alleged Univar had actual knowledge of the hazardous nature of its benzene products and negligently failed to warn industrial workers of the dangers in the '60s and '70s.

Dr. Jay Shatner, an oncologist and Thompson's treating physician, testified he was the physician who first diagnosed Thompson's leukemia. He said the illness was treatable, and for a time Thompson had even gone into remission. However, the disease relapsed and Thompson died.

He also said Thompson's type of leukemia is rare, with only about four cases a year diagnosed in the Golden Triangle area.

Univar is the leading chemical distributor in the U.S., providing more chemical products and related services than any other company in the marketplace, according to the company's website.

Carol Thompson was seeking damages for her husband's past and future medical expenses, lost wages and mental anguish.

She is represented in part by Provost Umphrey attorney Darren Brown.

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

Case No. E181-199

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