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High Court Orders New Trial in Asbestos Case

Fri, 06/08/2012 - 7:07am
JACK ELLIOTT JR., Associated Press

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — The Mississippi Supreme Court has ordered a new trial in a workplace asbestos exposure case in which a Jones County man was awarded $15.2 million.

However, the Supreme Court did not rule on the jury verdict. Instead, the justices found that the trial judge erred in allowing Troy Lofton's attorney to read from drilling records that were not admitted into evidence during the cross-examination of ConocoPhillips' medical expert.

In 2010, a Jones County jury ruled for Lofton in his lawsuit against CPChem, a joint venture between ConocoPhillips and Chevron Corp. CPChem appealed the verdict.

Lofton claimed CPChem knowingly shipped a product containing inhalable asbestos for 20 years that was used in the oil and gas well drilling industry. Lofton claimed that as a result of that exposure he has had to remain on oxygen 24 hours a day.

CPChem claimed the documents used by Lofton's attorney were comprised of historical drilling records on the use of asbestos viscosifiers in drilling rigs in Mississippi. However, the company said none of the information corresponded to Lofton's work sites or the use of CPChem's product Flosal.

Justice Jim Kitchens, writing for the Supreme Court, said the well reports — although some were authored by Lofton's employers — failed to identify any particular well on which Lofton had worked.

Kitchens said the drilling records were "highly prejudicial, irrelevant evidence."

"It is logical to conclude that this prejudicial evidence could have swayed the jury" against CPChem, Kitchens said.

The Supreme Court dismissed CPChem's claim that Lofton waited too long to file the lawsuit.

CPChem has argued Lofton was diagnosed with a lung ailment as early as 1993. The three-year statute of limitations began counting down in 1993, the company said, when Lofton discovered he had an injury — not 10 years later when he learned what caused the ailment.

The company claimed Lofton sued only after he was told that his ailment was related to exposure to asbestos.

Lofton's attorney said Lofton was never told he had an actionable lung injury before 2003. He said asbestosis can appear many years after exposure.

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