A Washington appeals court affirmed a $2.2 million verdict against ExxonMobil Oil Co. in a suit alleging that its negligence exposed a worker to asbestos, leading to his death from mesothelioma.
The panel however vacated the final judgment in Wayne Wright’s suit, finding that the trial court hadn’t properly determined whether the settlements with other defendants were reasonable, as the full text of those settlements had not been provided to Exxon, and ordered further proceedings.
Wright’s father was a worker for Northwestern Industrial Maintenance, which was contracted by Exxon in 1979 to remove old insulation that contained asbestos from pipes and pumps at an oil refinery. Wright’s father died in September 2015, and an autopsy revealed that he had suffered from mesothelioma.
Wright sued Exxon as well as Shell Oil Co., Texaco Inc. and others, all of whom settled claims, leaving only Exxon to face trial in the suit. A jury returned a $4 million verdict in favor of Wright, which the judge offset to $2.2 million based on the other settlement amounts, and Exxon appealed, objecting to the jury instructions as well as evidence that was admitted.
The panel found that the jury instruction for retained control, allowing the jury to find that Exxon controlled the conduct of the NIM workers, was a misstatement of the law, because Exxon’s requirement that NIM workers follow its general safety guidelines did not meet the threshold of control necessary for the instruction.
However, the panel found that the verdict for liability still stands under the premises liability theory, as that instruction was correctly given, and Exxon was able to adequately argue its theory of the case to the jury.