$19M awarded in Texaco suit

Published 11:23 pm Monday, April 12, 2010

JACKSON (AP) — Attorneys for Texaco say they will appeal a $19 million verdict for five woman who alleged the oil company was responsible for their children born with disabilities and illnesses, including mental retardation.

A Hinds County jury reached the verdict Thursday.

The women had claimed they were pregnant when they worked in the old Jefferson County office building in Fayette, which previously was a gas station affiliated with Texaco Inc.

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The women sued Texaco, now a unit of Chevron Corp., saying they were exposed to leaded gasoline fumes from tanks left in the ground when the former gas station was renovated.

Loraine Simon was the lead plaintiff in the case. She alleged her 20-year-old daughter, Rosalyn, is severely mentally disabled, and the children of the other women suffer from respiratory conditions and learning disabilities.

The trial was moved from Jefferson County to Hinds County on a change of venue request by Texaco because the women were known or worked in the county.

“Texaco intends to appeal today’s verdict, which we believe is contrary to the evidence and law,” Texaco attorney Bill Jones III said. “Texaco never owned, operated or controlled the service station or the underground storage tanks at issue. We believe there is no evidence that in any way links Texaco to claims made by plaintiffs.”

Simon told The Clarion-Ledger the victory is bittersweet because of her child’s condition.

Simon testified during the trial that she and her husband, Robert Simon, had taken their daughter to several physicians trying to determine the cause of her condition. They have two older children who do not have any mental defects. She did not work in the building when she was pregnant with the other two children.

“It’s just good for them to get some relief,” said Dennis Sweet, one of the attorneys for the plaintiffs.

The other plaintiffs didn’t have children with mental disabilities, but all suffer from asthma. Their attorneys argued that each of their children, who now range in age from 11 to 20, has some learning disability.

The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality had the tanks and contaminated soil removed in 2000.

According to court records, the defense’s expert testified Simon was exposed to 46,000 times the safe level for exposure to leaded gasoline fumes.

A Texaco expert said no medical records substantiate the claims of the women being exposed to dangerous levels of leaded gas fumes.

Texaco attorney Barry Ford said the company will ask Circuit Judge Lamar Pickard to throw out the jury award or as an alternative to lower the amount of the award.