Benzene Cancer Verdict Upheld in California

A California appeals court refused to overturn an $8 million verdict levied against an Exxon Mobile Corp. subsidiary in a <"http://www.yourlawyer.com/topics/overview/benzene">benzene cancer lawsuit. According to Law360.com, the plaintiff claimed to have developed kidney cancer from benzene exposure that occurred on a tanker operated by Exxon’s SeaRiver Maritime Inc.

The original benzene cancer verdict came down in 2008. The California jury found that SeaRiver was negligent in failing to provide a safe workplace for the plaintiff, who had worked for nearly 20 years as a seaman transporting crude oil from Alaskan oil fields to California refineries. In his benzene cancer lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged that he developed kidney cancer and eventually lost his right kidney and suffered a series of other ailments.

But SeaRiver appealed the verdict, claiming the plaintiff’s expert witness failed to prove that exposure to benzene caused the victims kidney cancer and said the witness’s opinions were based on speculation and did not constitute substantial evidence, according to Law360.com.

Last week, however, the Court of Appeal of the State of California, First Appellate District rejected the appeal, and ruled the testimony was sufficient, noting that the law does not require an expert’s opinion to have the same degree of credence or integrity as the data underlying that opinion. The Court of Appeals noted that SeaRiver did not challenge the underlying trustworthiness of the studies that the witness relied on, or his qualifications to interpret them.

The Court also rejected SeaRiver’s appeal of the jury’s award of $350,000 for future economic damages in lost wages, which alleged that the plaintiff was able bodied and was able to continue working after the loss of his kidney, Law360.com said. And the Court rejected SeaRiver’s claim that plaintiff’s counsel committed misconduct when it told the jury that an award of $1 million would be a “whisper” to SeaRiver and instead pushed them to grant a $9 million dollar award to help “change” SeaRiver.

If SeaRiver does not successfully appeal this latest decision, it will have to pay the plaintiff around $10.2 million, Law360 said.

Benzene is a colorless liquid with a sweet odor. It evaporates into the air very quickly and dissolves slightly in water. Several organizations, including the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the U.S. National Toxicology Program, and the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) all recognize benzene as a cancer-causing chemical.

By far, people working in industries where benzene is used or made are subjected to the highest benzene exposure. According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), as many as 238,000 people may be occupationally exposed to benzene in the U.S. These industries include benzene production (petrochemicals, petroleum refining, and coke and coal chemical manufacturing), rubber tire manufacturing, and storage or transport of benzene and petroleum products containing benzene. Other workers who may be exposed to benzene include coke oven workers in the steel industry, printers, rubber workers, shoe makers, laboratory technicians, firefighters, and gas station employees.

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