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Asbestos litigation has been around for a while. Many a solo or small firm rely almost entirely on mesothelioma and asbestos-related cases for the bulk of their practice.
Now a $322 million jury verdict in Mississippi, the largest asbestos verdict in U.S. history, has pushed the envelope. Plaintiffs and plaintiff's attorneys are certainly enthused by the news.
Thomas Brown Jr., 48, was awarded the sum after he prevailed against Chevron Phillips Chemical (CP Chem) and Union Carbide Corporation. Brown was 16 when he began working in the oil fields in the late 1970s, and was 30 when he was diagnosed with asbestosis.
He now requires daily oxygen support, reports The Clarion Ledger. Asbestosis is incurable, and can cause difficulty breathing, a crackling sound in the lungs, and can result in cardiac arrest in serious cases.
The breakdown of the award was $22 million in compensatory damages, and $300 million in punitive damages. There was evidence that both CP Chem and Union Carbide proceeded with using asbestos despite being well-aware of the risk of cancer and other associated illnesses.
Millions of asbestos claims have been filed over the years. The cost of asbestos litigation has driven over 85 corporations into bankruptcy, and has had an estimated total cost of $275 billion. However, most settlements have been much lower, the average being only several million dollars.
In one study of asbestos trials, Mississippi was considered an outlier - plaintiffs received a higher compensatory award, and plaintiffs were more likely to prevail at trial, according to a 2005 paper by University of California, San Diego economics professor Michelle J. White.
Considering the long history of asbestos litigation, the $322 million verdict seems more of a rarity than the reality of asbestos verdicts. CP Chem and Union Carbide's attorneys seem to agree, vowing to appeal their case to the Mississippi Supreme Court, reports The Clarion Ledger.