For the better part of a decade, a well-traveled asbestos suit against DuPont has bounced between courts – all because a Beaumont judge refused to accept a jury verdict clearing the chemical giant of negligence.
That ended on April 30 when Judge Donald Floyd, 172nd District Court, entered a final judgment in favor of DuPont in the case of Caryl Richardson v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours.
A week prior, the Ninth Court of Appeals had directed Floyd to enter judgment on a 2008 jury verdict in favor of the chemical manufacturer, finding that the record does not support the judge's rationale for ordering a new trial.
Plaintiff Caryl Richardson filed suit in 2007 in Jefferson County against DuPont on behalf of her deceased father and refinery worker, Willis Whisnant Jr.
The plaintiffs were seeking more than a billion dollars in damages, claiming Whisnant was negligently exposed to asbestos-containing materials while working for DuPont, which led to his death, but in 2008 a jury found no negligence on the part of the chemical company.
Court records show that Whisnant, a former subcontractor for DuPont from 1966 to 1975, was in his late 70s when he died from cancer that plaintiffs allege was caused by asbestos exposure.
Whisnant’s treating physician had diagnosed him with lung cancer and his official death certificate attributed his death to lung cancer probably caused by smoking, court papers say.
Following the no negligence verdict, plaintiff’s attorney Glen Morgan, of the Beaumont law firm Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, filed a motion for a new trial, arguing the evidence did not support the jury’s verdict.
Campaign finance records show the RMQ law firm and its attorneys were top contributors to Floyd's campaign this past election cycle.
Floyd granted the motion in a May 28, 2008, order, but offered no explanation for his decision.
DuPont appealed and the case circulated through the appellate courts before the Texas Supreme Court in 2009 ordered Judge Floyd to disclose his reasons for granting the new trial, court records show.
After a long series of continuances, on Sept. 10 Floyd once again issued an order granting Morgan’s motion for a new trial, finding that the jury’s answer of “no” as to the question of DuPont’s alleged negligence is against the “great weight and preponderance of the evidence.”
Unlike his previous one-page order, Floyd’s second order goes on for six-pages and cites the testimony of the plaintiffs’ experts and Whisnant’s co-workers as the reasons behind his decision.
A month later, DuPont appealed, asserting Floyd’s order did not “pass muster,” court papers say.
“The trial court granted a new trial on grounds that the jury’s verdict against Plaintiffs was contrary to the great weight and preponderance of the evidence, adopting verbatim an order prepared by Plaintiffs’ counsel that ignored the evidence supporting the verdict and, further, wrongly stated that DuPont produced no such evidence,” states DuPont’s petition for writ of mandamus.
DuPont is represented in part by MehaffyWeber attorney Sandra Clark and M.C. Carrington.
Trial case No. E159-183Q
Appeals case No. 09-14-00465-CV