Benzene trial against Univar USA begins in Jefferson County

By David Yates | Apr 28, 2010

Darren Brown

Throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the late John Thompson worked as an independent contractor at various local refineries.

When he finished the workday, Thompson would routinely wash his hands in benzene – a common practice at the time for most industrial laborers.

Now four decades later, Thompson's widow, Carol, wants to hold chemical distributor Univar responsible for her late husband's acute myelogenous leukemia and cancerous death, as the trial of Carol Thompson vs. Univar USA began Tuesday, April 26.

A Jefferson County jury will decide if Univar had actual knowledge of the hazardous nature of its benzene products and negligently failed to warn industrial workers of the dangers.

On Wednesday, jurors heard testimony from expert witness Peter Infante, who served for nearly three decades as a chronic disease epidemiologist for the U.S. government.

"I was surprised to learn how much ... whopping ... benzene this individual (John Thompson) had been exposed to," testified Infante. "Benzene causes leukemia in humans, period."

Infante said benzene products were commonly sold in the '60s and '70s and claimed it was his research into the chemical that coaxed companies to pull their benzene products off store shelves.

He added that although the dangers of benzene have been known for more than a century, his research and testimony have been heavily relied upon by many governments througout the world.

Infante also acknowledged that he was hired by the plaintiffs and paid $400 an hour to review the case and $3,500 to testify.

Univar maintains it was John Thompson's employers, such as DuPont, that were responsible for how workers handled and used benzene.

As the Southeast Texas Record previously reported, John and his wife filed suit against Chevron U.S.A. and eight other chemical companies on Feb. 7, 2008, in the Jefferson County District Court.

Some of the other suit defendants included Texaco, E.I. DuPont de Nemours and ExxonMobil – all of which have been non-suited by the plaintiffs. In fact, since March 2009 approximately seven defendants have settled and been non-suited by the plaintiffs.

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 is asking jurors to award her 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.

Univar is represented in part by Robert Scott, an attorney for the Abrams, Scott & Bickley law firm.

Case No. E181-199

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