Treating physician says patient died from leukemia in benzene trial

By David Yates | May 5, 2010


A death certificate and a treating physician's testimony both indicate John Thompson died from acute myelogenous leukemia when he was in his late 70s.

Now that the trial of Thompson vs. Univar has entered its second week, jurors must decide if Thompson's cancer death was the fault Univar USA, a chemical supplier that has distributed benzene products for decades.

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.

The plaintiffs are alleging 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.

On April 23 the jury heard the testimony of Dr. Jay Shatner, an oncologist and Thompson's treating physician.

Shatner 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.

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

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.

"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."

Univar is contending it was John Thompson's employers, including DuPont, that were responsible for how workers handled and used benzene.

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 in Houston.

Case No. E181-199

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