The Clarion-Ledger reports today on a $19 million jury verdict rendered yesterday in Hinds County against Chevron. The five plaintiffs claimed that exposure to leaded gasoline fumes at a building where they worked caused their children to be born with disabilities. The case was a Jefferson County case in which venue was transferred to Hinds County.
The C-L article explains:
All the women were pregnant when they worked in the old Jefferson County office building in Fayette, which previously was a gas station affiliated with Texaco Inc.
The women sued Texaco, which merged with Chevron Corp. in 2001, saying they were exposed to leaded gasoline fumes from tanks left in the ground when the former gas station was renovated.
Loraine Simon’s 20-year-old daughter, Rosalyn, is severely mentally disabled, and the children of the other women suffer from respiratory conditions and learning disabilities.
After the two-week trial, the jury awarded Simon, the lead plaintiff, $15 million.
The trial was moved from Jefferson County to Hinds County on a change of venue request by Texaco because the women were known or worked in the county.
Chevron will appeal:
"Texaco intends to appeal today’s verdict, which we believe is contrary to the evidence and law," Texaco attorney Bill Jones III said. "Texaco never owned, operated or controlled the service station or the underground storage tanks at issue. We believe there is no evidence that in any way links Texaco to claims made by plaintiffs."
Dennis Sweet tried the case for the plaintiffs. I do not know who worked up the case. Bill Jones and Barry Ford from Baker Donelson tried the case for Chevron. They have tried a lot of cases in the last ten years and have rarely lost. I was very surprised to hear that they defended a case with that high of a verdict. Judge Lamar Pickard was the trial judge.
I know very little about the case other than what is in the newspaper. But it seems like the verdict will be hard to keep on appeal. Chevron, Exxon, Shell, etc. do not own the gas stations where their gas is sold. The same applies for many businesses that operate under franchise or license agreements. In those situations, the franchisor/ licensor is typically not legally responsible for something that occurs on the premises. Perhaps something was different about this case—perhaps not. If not, this could be a reversed and rendered decision on appeal.
Another question is whether the verdict is subject to Mississippi’s tort reform caps. The article suggests not when it says that the women originally sued Texaco, which merged with Chevron in 2001. This suggests that the case was filed before tort reform laws passed.