Virginia Court Nixes Multi-Million Dollar Asbestos Award

Virginia’s highest court reversed a $17.5 million asbestos verdict, ruling that a judge improperly blocked evidence that may have changed the outcome of the trial.

According to a story in the Daily Press, Rubert “Bert” Minton was awarded the money in 2011, following a three-week trial. A jury in the case found ExxonMobil responsible for exposing Minton to the deadly asbestos fibers that led to his mesothelioma cancer. Minton died of complications from mesothelioma in August 2012.

But this week, the Supreme Court of Virginia reversed the award in a 5-2 vote. The justices claimed the circuit judge presiding over Minton’s trial improperly excluded evidence. This evidence would have shown that Minton’s former employer, Newport News Shipbuilding, had extensive knowledge of the links between asbestos and cancer. As the Supreme Court’s ruling stated it, “the trial court erred in refusing to admit evidence of the shipyard’s knowledge of the dangers of asbestos exposure and its procedures regarding precautions to be taken around asbestos.”

From 1966 and 1977, Minton worked at Newport News Shipbuilding as a repair supervisor on commercial vessels. In his supervisor position, Minton labored on 17 Exxon commercial oil tankers (out of a total of 200 vessels repaired during that time). Because of provisions in the workman’s compensation law, Newport News Shipbuilding holds immunity from asbestos cases brought by former workers.

Nevertheless, ExxonMobil sought to introduce evidence that the shipyard had extensive knowledge of asbestos effects. This way, the jury might have assigned greater responsibility to the shipyard for Minton’s mesothelioma. The circuit judge presiding over the trial blocked the move, and the jury found in Minton’s favor.

Now, the Supreme Court has remanded the case back to Newport News for a possible second trial.

From about World War II until the late 1970s, shipyard workers such as Minton were exposed to high levels of asbestos. The substance frequently was used in ship boilers, turbines, pumps, gaskets, insulation, and other asbestos products.

Did you develop mesothelioma after working around asbestos? Call Sokolove Law today for a free legal consultation about a mesothelioma lawsuit.