SE Texas Record

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Even big companies are innocent until proven guilty

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By The Record | May 29, 2018

Law money 05

“The seriousness of poisoning caused by benzene depends on the amount, route, and length of time of exposure, as well as the age and preexisting medical condition of the exposed person,” according to the Centers for Disease Control. 

Toxicity may be increased by the method and duration of exposure, the CDC says, and the victim’s susceptibility. So, after determining poison and dosage, it’s necessary to ascertain the method and length of exposure and the victim’s state of health.

“People who breathe in high levels of benzene,” the CDC says, “may develop the following signs and symptoms within minutes to several hours: drowsiness, dizziness, rapid or irregular heartbeat, headaches, tremors, confusion, unconsciousness, [and] death (at very high levels).”

The CDC emphasizes that other poisons may be to blame: “Showing these signs and symptoms does not necessarily mean that a person has been exposed to benzene.”

Similar considerations apply for attorneys seeking compensation for the alleged poisoning of a client: Was it benzene, how did exposure occur, how substantial was it, how long did it last, etc.?

The plaintiff’s attorney would have the additional burden in court of demonstrating that the client’s contamination resulted from exposure to a particular product manufactured by a specific company.

This is something the attorney for Virgil Hood failed to do to the satisfaction of the 5th District Court of Appeals at Dallas, which reversed a multimillion-dollar trial court judgment in Hood’s favor against DuPont.

“The evidence of causation is legally insufficient to sustain the verdict in this case,” the appeals court concluded. “We reverse the judgment of the trial court and render a take-nothing judgment in favor of DuPont.”

As a commercial painter, Hood was exposed to paints and paint thinners containing benzene, some probably manufactured by DuPont, but the expert testimony presented on his behalf failed to establish causation between his exposure and his subsequent development of leukemia.

Thus, the right of DuPont and every defendant company to be considered innocent until proven guilty was upheld.

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