Exxon is facing a unique lawsuit for being negligent in causing an electrician’s death after the man contracted mesothelioma from working around the asbestos on Exxon ships in a Newport News, Virginia, shipyard. Unlike the majority of asbestos lawsuits that are filed against the manufacturer of the parts containing asbestos, in the Morton suit, Exxon is being sued for owning the ships that contained the asbestos. Such a scenario has never been seen in Newport News courts. Stanley Morton is named as the plaintiff in a lawsuit filed by his widow against Exxon for negligence in causing the mesothelioma he ultimately died from in 2007, just one year after his diagnosis. A total of $10.5 million is being sought in damages and medical expenses by Morton’s widow, Nancy Morton.
She holds that Exxon knew as early as 1937 of the deadly nature of asbestos exposure but refused to take precautions to abate or remove it from their ships. Morton’s lawyer, Bobby Hatten, explained that Exxon plant workers were educated on avoiding asbestos from 1937 onward, and a 1964 letter was read warning of asbestos exposure dangers to those not working directly with asbestos. After all of this nothing was done for the Exxon ships. This negligence led to her husband developing mesothelioma after working around the shipyard for 33 years. In the closing arguments, Hatten theorized that Exxon did nothing about the asbestos in its ships because the diseases caused by asbestos take decades before they are diagnosed. Unlike many other toxins, which can have immediate results from their inhalation, breathing in asbestos deposits the particles deep into the lungs where they can alter the DNA of a person and lead to many forms of lung cancer and mesothelioma. A condition known as asbestosis, which is a scarring of the lung tissue, is also the result of exposure to asbestos. The Exxon lawyer, Bill Armstrong, says that the company did not know of the asbestos risk until the late 1970s and that Morton worked on several ships in the Newport News shipyards from which he could also have been exposed to asbestos. Armstrong also believes that the shipyard was more at fault for not putting increased safety regulations into enforcement, but the shipyard is not subject to lawsuit because it receives funds from the federal worker compensation program. The jury deliberations will take place before a ruling is made in this case.