With gasoline now well over $3.10 a gallon in many places in the U.S., it’s likely that few Americans are especially enamored of oil and gasoline companies. But Earnestine Alexander of Port Arthur, Texas, has a much more personal reason to not be a fan of one particular oil company. Ms. Alexander filed suit against Chevron U.S.A. in October. Her complaint contains the allegation that the corporation “maliciously” exposed her late husband, Herman Alexander, to the asbestos that resulted in his “painful and terrible death” from mesothelioma.
According to the complaint: “The defendants knew for decades that asbestos-containing products could cause the disease of asbestosis and asbestos-related cancers and still allowed their employees, such as Alexander, to work with and around asbestos products in the workplace. “The defendants failed to take the necessary engineering, safety, industrial hygiene and other precautions and provide adequate warning and training to ensure that the deceased was not exposed to the asbestos-containing products.” The petition states that Alexander, who died 24 June 2007, was exposed to asbestos fibers and dust in the course of his employment as a laborer at Gulf Oil Corporation.
Gulf merged with Chevron-Phillips Chemical Company in 1984. Asbestos exposure in the workplace is a common and documented hazard in the oil industry because of the constant danger of fire and explosion. Not only were pipes, conduits and machinery often covered in asbestos insulation, but the very clothing worn by refinery workers–gloves, masks and fireproof overcoats–often had asbestos linings, which could release fibers when torn or ripped open. Earnestine Alexander is suing for punitive and exemplary damages. If she wins, the judgment will probably be reduced or overturned on appeal; nonetheless, her efforts will hopefully continue to serve notice to global corporations that disregard for life in the name of profits is unacceptable in a decent society.