Exxon Wins Victory Over Mesothelioma Victim

In the case of Exxon Mobil Corp. v. Minton, the Virginia Supreme Court reversed the lower courts’ decision that awarded over $12.5 million in punitive damages to a mesothelioma victim based on the company’s knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

Mesothelioma Victim Sues Exxon

Rubert Minton, a worker on Exxon Mobile Corporation’s ships, sued the company for damages, stating that he developed mesothelioma while working for the company and that Exxon should have known that exposure to asbestos could cause this disease. Minton filed suit under the federal Longshore and Harbor Workers’ Compensation Act or LHWCA.

In his lawsuit, Minton claimed that the company failed to warn him of and protect him from asbestos exposure during his employment. As a result, he claimed that he developed mesothelioma, a deadly cancer associated with exposure to asbestos.

A jury agreed with Minton, finding in his favor and awarding him $12,500,000 in punitive damages from the company as well as compensatory damages and medical expenses.

Jury Decision Reversed by Supreme Court.

However, the Virginia Supreme Court recently reversed this decision, forcing the victim to refile the matter and retry the case. Specifically, the Supreme Court held that the trial judge erred by refusing to allow evidence concerning the company’s knowledge of the dangers and its ability to prevent asbestos exposure. Further, the court held that punitive damages are not allowable under the terms of the LHWCA.

What Does This Mean for Mesothelioma Victims?

This reversal is a blow for Mr. Minton and others like him who have suffered deadly injuries from asbestos exposure while working for their employers. However, it is also a good example of what can happen when individual plaintiffs decide to pursue damages outside of a class action.

When a class action suit is filed, such as the one involving numerous mesothelioma victims that is currently being argued in the courts, many attorneys work for the overall good of a large class of victims. On the other hand, when an individual files a lawsuit, the attorneys in the case are only concerned about that particular plaintiff’s injuries and the circumstances that led to those injuries.

This means that a defendant such as Exxon has only to defend itself against the claims of one person rather than against an entire class of plaintiffs. This often works to the benefit of the defendant rather than the plaintiff, as the individual peculiarities of the case may give rise to a verdict favorable to the defendant or, as in this case, to a reversal on appeal.

Can I Still File a Mesothelioma Claim?

Anyone who has been injured by exposure to asbestos still has the right to file an individual lawsuit or become part of the mass tort or class action lawsuit brought against employers for exposing workers to these dangers. Once a class has been formed, individuals who want to pursue their own cases must receive permission from the court to do so, but they are not necessarily barred from filing individually.

A personal injury attorney can explain the difference between filing a suit individually and as part of a class.

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