• $8.2M Verdict In Texas Benzene Trial Against DuPont
  • October 26, 2015
  • Law Firm: Waters Kraus LLP - Dallas Office
  • A Dallas, Texas jury has awarded $8.2 million to a 60-year-old Texas man battling MDS/AML, a form of leukemia caused by his exposure to benzene contained in paint and thinners manufactured by E.I. Du Pont De Nemours (DuPont). Virgil Hood handled DuPont’s toxic products on the job daily in Colorado between 1973 and 1996, when he worked as a painter for Timpte Trailers, a company that builds semi-trailers, and Continental Airlines.

    DuPont is one of the largest chemical product manufacturers in this country. The evidence at trial proved that from 1938, DuPont knew that benzene exposure causes bone marrow disease and by 1954, DuPont had warned others to remove benzene from paints. By the late 1960s, it was well established that benzene causes leukemia. “But DuPont chose not to take the benzene out of its products or to warn workers like Mr. Hood about the hazards,” said Peter Kraus, Waters Kraus & Paul founding partner who acted as lead trial counsel for Mr. Hood. “Instead, in 1975 DuPont marched one of its executives before OSHA to deceive the government about cancer hazards of its paint products.”

    “When DuPont learned that the government was considering a safety standard, it thought only of costs to its business,” said Suzi Chester, Waters Kraus & Paul attorney and co-counsel at trial. “Rather than simply place a cancer warning on its paints, DuPont’s expert presented shoddy test results to OSHA that were nowhere near real-world conditions. DuPont’s whitewashed testing was designed to create the appearance that workers exposed to benzene levels 5 to 10 times above the proposed standard would still be safe,” Kraus added.
     
    Mr. Hood was diagnosed with MDS/AML in 2012 after a routine physical examination. “Since then, Mr. Hood has been fighting the disease every day,” said Chester. Mr. Hood received grueling chemotherapy treatments and after being placed on a waitlist at MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston, he underwent a bone marrow transplant that resulted in horrific complications, including three bouts of pneumonia and temporary blindness. “At one point, his weight dropped to 110 pounds but Virgil kept fighting,” Chester continued.

    During trial, Mr. Hood was battling graft-versus-host disease, in which his body and the new bone marrow are literally attacking one another. The drugs that prevent his body from rejecting the new bone marrow cause side effects that Mr. Hood lives with every day. After working through his chemotherapy treatments, Mr. Hood was forced to retire after the transplant. “He simply could not function,” Chester explained. “Virgil takes it one day at a time now. But he and Lorrie have hope—that alone is incredible given what they’ve suffered” adds Chester.

    On October 20, after a two-week trial, the jury awarded Virgil Hood $8,243,234, including $6,743,234 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages against DuPont. DuPont is responsible for 80 percent of the compensatory award and Mr. Hood’s former employer, Timpte, is responsible for the remaining 20 percent. Kraus and Chester were assisted at trial by Jonathan George, Waters Kraus & Paul partner and Scott Frieling, a partner with Allen Stewart, P.C.

    “What is most gratifying to us about this verdict is the impact it will have not just for the Hood family, but for the thousands of other families in America affected by benzene related MDS/AML,” said Kraus. “For decades, the manufacturers of benzene-contaminated products have attempted to deny their accountability for injuring hard-working Americans,” Kraus continued. “First, the manufacturers ignored the scientific and medical data; then they chose not to warn workers of the undeniable risks; and then DuPont even went so far as to lie to the American government about the true dangers of these products. This verdict reaffirms what we at Waters Kraus & Paul have known all along — that ordinary Americans care deeply about living in a world that is safe for themselves, their families and their neighbors.”

    The case, Virgil Hood v. E.I. DuPont De Nemours, NO. DC-13-03619-H, was tried before the Honorable Jim Jordan, in the 160th Judicial District Court of Dallas County, Texas.