One month ago, plaintiff's attorney Glen Morgan said DuPont's past asbestos safety policies had been so egregious that the company had no right to exist. But a Jefferson County jury did not agree, and found no negligence on the part of DuPont in the death of a former employee of an asbestos-related disease.
After deliberating two full days, jurors in the case of Willis Whisnant vs. DuPont returned with a verdict in favor of the defendant on March 25. The trial began on Feb. 21 and took place in Judge Floyd's 172nd Judicial District Court.
The trial focused on plaintiff Willis Whisnant Jr., 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.
Whisnant's suit against DuPont, which included around five other defendants, was severed from the original case. A court official said the other defendants in the case had settled.
According to medical testimony, Whisnant's chest was riddled with bone-eating tumors, a condition the plaintiffs attempted to link to Whisnant's stint at DuPont.
In his opening remarks, Morgan, a partner at Reaud, Morgan & Quinn, said DuPont's (and other companies') asbestos policies during the '60s, '50s and '40s were so malicious that the company's "right to exist should be taken away."
The plaintiffs maintained 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, which include Larry Cotten of Cotten & Schmidt in Fort Worth and Sandra Clark of Beaumont's Mehaffy Weber, argued 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 argued that the chemical company took steps to protect its employees from asbestos before OSHA implemented asbestos guidelines in 1972.