LAKE CHARLES, La. - While Southeast Texas residents often travel to Lake Charles in the hope of hitting it big in a casino, one local man returned from the Louisiana gambling town with an award of $17.5 million from a lawsuit.

As previously reported, on Feb. 10 a plaintiff represented in part by Provost Umphrey attorney Darren Brown reaped a $17,498,391.87 verdict in his benzene suit against oil giants Chevron USA, Inc., Texaco, Inc. and Unocal.

On June 9, 2009, plaintiff Monte McWilliams, a Nederland resident at that time, filed his benzene lawsuit against 19 company defendants, in the 14th District of Calcasieu Parish in Lake Charles, La.

The suit expanded to include 16 volumes, three-dozen defendants and more than 2,000 filings.

Some of the defendants named in the suit include area companies such as Port Arthur Towing Co. and Huntsman Petrochemical, court records show.

Corporate defendants with facilities in Jefferson County are also named in the suit, including DuPont and Total Petrochemical.

According to the original petition, in the early 1980s McWilliams was a petroleum inspector and suffered extensive benzene exposure in his work on ships and barges in Southwest Louisiana and Southeast Texas.

This exposure allegedly caused acute myelogenous leukemia, with which he was diagnosed at the age of 48.

The jury found that punitive damages should be awarded in the amount of $12 million.

Calcasieu Parish jurors further awarded McWilliams $1.5 million for his physical pain, $2.25 million for his mental suffering, $698,391 for medical expenses, $750,000 for lost earnings, $200,000 for loss of enjoyment of life and $100,000 to compensate him for his disability.

Attorney Wells Watson with Baggett, McCall, Burgess, Watson & Gaughan in Lake Charles also represents the plaintiff.

Defendants' lawyers were Robert Scott with Blank Rome, and Gary Bezet with Kean Miller.

Judge David Ritchie, Division E, presided over the trial.

Case No. 2009-002803-E

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