Lawyer’s Weekly USA has this article on the recent Jones County drilling mud verdict that I reported here and here. The article is somewhat slanted because it heavily quotes the plaintiff’s lawyer and not the defendant’s, who declined to comment.
The article opens:
A Mississippi jury has awarded $15 million to a 71 year-old oil industry worker who developed asbestosis after years of handling bags of product containing 99 percent asbestos.
According to the article:
Among the evidence at trial was a handwritten document indicating that the company had weighed the cost of personal injury lawsuits against the profits of continuing to sell asbestos.
The article emphasized closing arguments:
Only one live witness testified for the defense – an expert who opined that it was unlikely the plaintiff had asbestosis even though he admitted he had not reviewed the plaintiff’s extensive work history with asbestos, and ultimately acknowledged that Lofton was a “pulmonary cripple.”
Jones also pointed out that the expert stopped seeing patients in 2000 to devote his full attention to serving as an exclusively defense-side expert, from which he has made over $6 million.
According to Jones, in its closing the defense told the jury that it “took courage” for the expert to give his opinion that the plaintiff did not suffer from asbestosis.
Jones countered in his closing: “It didn’t take any courage; all it took was money.”
Does anyone know what “breaking it off” is in Latin?
The story continues:
Perhaps most damaging to the defense was not putting a corporate representative on the stand.
Jones’ co-counsel Ron Franklin hammered this point home during his portion of closing arguments: “Not one human being, not one executive, not anybody from ConocoPhillips who they can put on the witness stand to tell you this product was safe. Not one person.”
Uh oh. That’s at least arguably an improper argument. It’s similar to the argument discussed in this post that contributed to a Court of Appeals reversal.
And it’s going to be hard for the plaintiff to argue that the argument was harmless if his lawyer was the source of the “perhaps most damaging” assessment. It will be interesting to see how that plays out on appeal.
I dont’ get why defense lawyers tend to be so reticent in talking to reporters in situations like this. I put it in the category of things lawyers do for no good reason because that’s how its always been done. It would be tempting to say that we got hosed and are going to appeal.