Legislation & Litigation

Conoco Appeals $15.2M Award to Worker Exposed to Asbestos

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Jan. 30, 2012
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Written By: Tim Povtak,
January 30, 2012

Conoco Phillips Corp., knowing a lengthy list of plaintiffs from the oil drilling industry are awaiting, began oral arguments today before the Mississippi State Supreme Court in its appeal of the $15.2 million jury verdict involving asbestos exposure.

The case, which went to trial in 2010  and was brought by an lifelong oil field worker, revolved around Drilling Mud, which was used to cool drill bits and flush debris from well holes.

It was just the latest example of how dangerous oil industry occupation really was, despite assurances that safety precautions had been taken.
Troy Lofton, now 71 and whose parents were Mississippi sharecroppers, developed asbestosis, a respiratory disease caused by his lengthy exposure to asbestos in the oil drilling industry.

Part of Lofton’s job involved opening 50-pound bags of Flosal, an asbestos-additive that was mixed into the mud being used in oil and gas drilling. The asbestos was useful because of its heat resistance and bonding qualities that once made it so popular.

The product was sold by CP Chem, a subsidiary of Phillips 66, which later merged into Conoco Phillips Corp. The original case against Conoco Phillips was one of the few that actually went to trial.

Lofton said he first developed asbestosis in 2004. He began working in the oil industry in 1964, coinciding with the beginning of  asbestos mud additives for drilling.

Lofton claimed CP Chem knowingly was shipping a dangerous product to the drilling industry without the proper warnings. He also said at the trial that the asbestosis required him to be on oxygen 24 hours a day.

Although many applications of asbestos became prohibited in the early 1970s under the Toxic Substances Control Act, it was being used for drilling mud as late at 1989 by the oil industry. An exposure to asbestos fibers also can cause mesothelioma, a cancer with a latency period of up to 50 years.

Flosal and Visbestos were the two most popular mud additives that were used in the oil and gas industry, particularly in states like in Texas, Mississippi, Oklahoma, Louisiana and New Mexico.

Oil-drilling industry occupations that have been particularly hard hit by asbestos exposure include mud engineers, drillers, shaker hands, and mud mixers. Workers in the oil refineries business also have sustained considerable asbestos exposure.

Lofton testified at the trial with tubes in his nose and early and holding a portable oxygen bottle. Among the evidence at the trial was documentation that the company had discussed the potential dangers of the mud additives, and the costs of personal injury lawsuits that it anticipated.

It took the jury just four hours of deliberating before it returned to award Lofton $200,000 in economic damages and $15 million for pain and suffering and emotional distress.

This appeal comes shortly after a $322 million verdict against Union Carbide  Corp. and Chevron Phillips Chemical —  involving another victim of oil-drilling mud — was overturned by an appeals court. The case was overturned, though, because of a conflict-of-interest regarding Circuit Judge Eddie Bowen.

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