Bloomberg News

Union Carbide Judge Removed From $322 Million-Verdict Case

October 06, 2011

(Updates with Union Carbide comment in eighth paragraph.)

Oct. 6 (Bloomberg) -- The Mississippi Supreme Court granted a request by Dow Chemical Co.’s Union Carbide unit to disqualify the judge who presided over an asbestos trial that ended with a $322 million verdict against the company.

Union Carbide argued that state Circuit Court Judge Eddie Bowen shouldn’t have presided over the trial that ended on May 4 because his father suffered from asbestosis, a disease caused by the mineral that sickened plaintiff Thomas Brown. The company claimed the defense was denied a fair trial.

The court yesterday ordered Bowen removed and stopped all action on the case until a new judge is appointed, without addressing the status of the verdict.

“We find that a reasonable person, knowing all of the circumstances, would harbor doubts about Judge Bowen’s impartiality in this particular case,” the court said.

Bowen’s father filed two asbestos lawsuits, one of which is still pending, and both his parents had settled a claim with Union Carbide and other defendants based on a diagnosis of asbestosis, according to the court’s ruling, which cited an independent probe by the Dow Chemical unit.

Judy Herrington, a circuit court administrator, said in a phone interview that Bowen said he isn’t permitted to comment on the matter. The judge was sworn in at the Raleigh, Mississippi, courthouse in September 2010, according to a statement the court issued at the time.

Largest Ever

The May 4 award is the largest ever made to a single asbestos case plaintiff, according to data compiled by Bloomberg. A state punitive-damages cap would erase at least $260 million.

Union Carbide is “gratified” by the state Supreme Court ruling, a company spokesman, Scot Wheeler, said in an e-mailed statement. The jury verdict was “outrageous and completely unsupported by the facts and applicable law,” he said.

“We look forward to this case being remanded to the trial court for further proceedings before a new judge,” said Wheeler.

Brown’s lawyer, D. Allen Hossley, didn’t immediately reply to after-hours voicemail and e-mail messages seeking comment.

His client developed asbestosis after being exposed to the toxic fibers while mixing drilling mud on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. He claimed Union Carbide and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. knew asbestos is toxic and didn’t warn him. Brown is on oxygen 24 hours a day, Hossley has said.

The Raleigh jury had also found Chevron Phillips Chemical liable for damages. That company is a joint venture of Chevron Corp. and ConocoPhillips.

The case is Brown v. Phillips Co., 2006-196, Circuit Court, Smith County, Mississippi (Raleigh).

--With assistance from Laurence Viele Davidson in Atlanta and Margaret Cronin Fisk in Detroit. Editors: Fred Strasser, Michael Hytha

To contact the reporter on this story: Andrew Harris in Chicago at aharris16@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Michael Hytha at mhytha@bloomberg.net


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