Mississippi is home to a number of industries that used asbestos materials in the workplace. Its location on the Gulf of Mexico makes it a popular place for oil refineries and shipyards, two industries infamous for their extensive use of asbestos products to prevent fires. Power plants, chemical plants and manufacturing plants in Mississippi are other sources of asbestos exposure in the state. Hurricane Katrina's 2005 destruction along the Mississippi coast left wreckage that some believe was tainted by asbestos products, potentially exposing residents, first responders and cleanup crews. A Mississippi jury awarded the largest asbestos verdict in U.S. history ($322 million), but the verdict was later overturned.Find Top Doctors in Mississippi
ranking in U.S. for mesothelioma & asbestosis deaths
Mississippi does not have a comprehensive cancer treatment center within its borders. The closest facilities are the UAB Comprehensive Cancer Center in Birmingham, Alabama, and the Vanderbilt-Ingram Cancer Center in Nashville, Tennessee. UAB’s Kirklin Clinic was constructed to help mesothelioma patients with diagnostic and treatment options.
Because Mississippi borders the Gulf of Mexico, a number of state residents historically parlayed that location into employment as oil refinery workers and as shipyard workers. Both occupations are traditionally high risk for exposure to asbestos, a known cause of mesothelioma cancer. Other risky occupations for exposure include:
Pennsylvania-based Armstrong Cork Company, an international designer and manufacturer of ceilings, flooring and cabinets, has a flooring manufacturing plant in Jackson, Mississippi, that is on a watch list for mesothelioma cases. The company went into bankruptcy in 2000 after it became apparent its asbestos-related liabilities were not slowing down and would outpace the company's future value. It came out of bankruptcy protection in 2006, and it established the Armstrong World Industries Asbestos Personal Injury Settlement Trust as part of its reorganization.
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Mississippi was one of two states affected dramatically and directly by Hurricane Katrina. On August 29, 2005, the Category 5 storm wiped out coastal areas of the gulf town of Biloxi, Mississippi, washing away some casino boats and repositioning others. Flood waters erased entire homes and wrecked others to the point that cleanup was a concern.
Because of the age of some of the homes and buildings that were damaged, asbestos was a concern during the cleanup. The National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) monitored asbestos levels found in some debris and in dust particles after the storm. Both levels were well below levels deemed hazardous. NIOSH did identify asbestos shingles in the debris as a possible contaminant, but it did not measure the concentration.
The aftermath of the storm prompted officials to say that information about asbestos and other toxic substances needed to be more widely circulated among local homeowners, business owners, volunteers and rescue and relief personnel.
Mississippi has a unique history regarding asbestos litigation. Up until recently, the state was a popular place to file asbestos lawsuits. In 2002, approximately 20 percent of nationwide asbestos claims had been filed in Mississippi. The political climate in Mississippi has shifted in recent years, leading to a decline in asbestos case filings.
However, Mississippi remains a favorable place to file asbestos lawsuits because it has no limit on punitive damage awards, which can result in higher verdicts for injured plaintiffs.
Mississippi was home to the largest U.S. jury award in an asbestos-related case. A record $322 million was awarded to Thomas "Tony" Brown of Brookhaven, Mississippi.
Brown worked as a roughneck mixing mud on oil drilling rigs from 1979 to the mid-1980s. From there, he said he inhaled asbestos dust while mixing the mud manufactured by Union Carbide Corp. and sold by Chevron Phillips Chemicals. At 30 years old, Brown contracted asbestosis, scarring of the lungs, forcing him to breath with an oxygen tank 24 hours a day.
Attorneys for Chevron Phillips and Union Carbide claimed that Brown could not prove negligence or a harmful amount of exposure. It was a winning argument in many previous cases in the state related to asbestos. But the jury found otherwise and awarded $22 million in actual damages and $300 million in punitive damages. However, the judge in the case was removed following the landmark verdict because he failed to disclose that his parents had been involved in asbestos litigation that also involved Union Carbide. In December 2011, a new judge threw out the record verdict and ordered a new trial for mid-2012.
A retrial occurred in April 2012 in another Mississippi county. After a week and a half long trial, the jury ruled in favor of Union Carbide.
In another case, a federal jury awarded more than $1 million in damages to one plaintiff — former Ingalls Shipbuilding worker James Jackson.
One of the earliest cases that named Ingalls as a defendant in an asbestos-related case was Overly, et al., v. Ingalls Shipbuilding. Former Westinghouse employee Robert Overly, who spent time repairing ships at Ingalls while traveling to Pascagoula, Mississippi, won $465,000 in economic damages and $400,000 in non-economic damages in the case. The damages were later reduced, but Ingalls acknowledged liability in the case and was assigned fault.
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