Mesothelioma Victim Awarded $25 Million by Virginia Jury

03/28/2011 // Chicago, IL, USA // Mesothelioma Lawyers – Cooney & Conway // Cooney & Conway

Virginia – In one of the largest verdicts in Virginia history, a Newport News jury awarded $25 million to a former shipyard worker suffering from mesothelioma, an aggressive and invariably fatal cancer that is almost always caused by asbestos exposure.

The March 17 verdict was a stunning setback for oil giant Exxon Mobil Corporation—which was deemed liable for $12 million in compensatory damages, $12.5 million in punitive damages, and nearly $500,000 in medical expenses. But it was also a vindication, say mesothelioma lawyers, for workers who were needlessly put at risk for contracting a host of life-threatening asbestos-related diseases.

The plaintiff, Rubert “Bert” Minton, 72, was employed as a repair supervisor on commercial vessels at Newport News Shipbuilding between 1966 and 1977. Previously, he had spent seven years there as a shipfitter in new construction. During his time at the shipyard, Minton worked on 17 Exxon oil tankers that were undergoing repairs.

Doctors said the cause of Minton’s mesothelioma was the billions of asbestos fibers—a common component of many parts and materials aboard ships then—that he inhaled in the course of his employment at the shipyard. That Minton was diagnosed with mesothelioma decades after his asbestos exposure wasn’t unusual, say mesothelioma lawyers. The disease—which traces its origin to asbestos fibers inhaled into the lungs—typically develops over many years. In some cases, mesothelioma is not detected until a half century after exposure. That, the mesothelioma lawyers say, explains why the disease strikes so many retired workers now in their 70s and 80s.

A diagnosis of mesothelioma is invariably grim, with many patients succumbing within a year of diagnosis and few surviving more than five years. Minton, who filed his asbestos lawsuit against Exxon in late 2009, is expected to live another two years at most, according to his lawyer.

Asbestos—as noted during the nearly three-week trial in Newport News Circuit Court—was a key component of insulation, gaskets, seals and pumps aboard seagoing vessels. Known for its heat- and fire-resistant characteristics, asbestos was commonly used in a host of other industries as well, including construction and automotive parts.

It can still be found today in many older structures, posing health hazards, particularly during renovation and demolition projects, when any disturbance of asbestos can cause the material to escape into the air. Once airborne, asbestos particles are at their most dangerous, as they can easily be inhaled and lodge in the lungs.

While mesothelioma lawyers have been successful in obtaining large—and, as in this case, multimillion-dollar—verdicts, researchers still struggle to understand the workings of the disease and how it can be beaten. Treatment options, including surgery, chemotherapy and radiation, have shown varying degrees of success, but a cure remains elusive.

The $25 million verdict will automatically be reduced to about $17.5 million, because the jury was legally limited to $5 million in punitive damages, the amount Minton’s mesothelioma lawyers had asked for.

Suits against shipowners are a relatively new development, say mesothelioma lawyers. Traditionally, asbestos lawsuits have been directed against makers of asbestos-laden parts. But the suit against Exxon contended that the oil giant knew about the dangers of asbestos as early as the 1930s—when it developed rules to protect refinery workers—yet it took no steps to protect or warn shipyard workers and ship’s crews.

*This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. For more than half a century, we have been advocates for those injured because of the wrongful actions of others. We have litigated and resolved some of the nation’s most significant asbestos lawsuits, bringing justice—and compensation—to victims of asbestos exposure and the lung cancer, mesothelioma and other deadly diseases it can cause.

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