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A jury in West Virginia has awarded $6.4 million to the family of a banking executive who died of illness apparently caused by childhood exposure to the asbestos dust brought home on his father’s work clothes. “This was a substantial victory because it is, as far as we can tell, the first verdict in a ‘household exposure case,’ ” said plaintiff’s counsel James Barber of the Law Office of James M. Barber of Charleston, W. Va. Cox v. DuPont, No. 00-C-3042 (Kanawha Co., W.Va., Cir. Ct.). The case was brought by Barbara Cox, widow of Leonard Dale Cox, the chief executive officer of the Bank of Gassaway, a regional bank in West Virginia. According to court records, in late 1999 Cox was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a variety of cancer known to be caused solely by exposure to asbestos. He died of the disease in June 2000. The West Virginia Supreme Court, in an effort to clear the state’s docket of asbestos cases, has assigned retired Kanawha County Circuit Judge Andrew MacQueen to hear all pending cases, with the assistance of other judges. MacQueen was assisted in the recent round of cases by Ohio County Circuit Court Judge Martin Gaughan. MIXED RESULTS The Cox case was among 62 cases brought before the judge in a batch. Of those, E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. of Wilmington, Del., was a defendant in 23 cases. All but nine of those cases were either settled or voluntarily dismissed prior to trial. The remaining nine asbestos cases were heard simultaneously by the jury. Four were withdrawn by the plaintiffs. The jury found for DuPont in two cases and for the plaintiffs in the remaining three. “We came out with a mixed verdict,” said Danya Kraft, corporate counsel for DuPont. “We were pleased overall, but obviously disappointed by the three verdicts that were not in our favor,” she added. Cox had no history of any occupational exposure to asbestos but his father, Cecil Cox, was an insulator at the DuPont plant in Belle, W.Va., from 1943 until 1975. Two siblings testified that the elder Cox’s clothing was typically dusty when he came home from work and that he relaxed in his recliner each evening while still wearing his work clothes, Barber said. The younger Cox was exposed in the home up until 1965 when, at age 19, he left for military service. “The brother and sister painted a very clear picture for the jury of the dust their dad brought home,” he said. “Dale, as a boy, played on his father’s recliner, which was filmed with asbestos dust, and asbestos dust was thick in the cuffs of his father’s work pants,” Barber added. Co-workers testified about the asbestos products used at the plant and the dusty conditions. It was typical for workers to bring work clothing home, including overalls, to be washed, according to testimony. The elder Cox, as an insulator, was among the workers most exposed, Barber said. NO WARNINGS According to testimony from plant workers, there were essentially no warnings about the dangers of asbestos in the plant and no safeguards taken to shield workers from dust inhalation. Documents presented at trial showed that DuPont had begun worker-safety programs for asbestos exposure at plants in other states while nothing was done at the plant where Cox’s father worked. Barber presented evidence that by 1960 published articles detailed the potential for household exposure. Kraft countered that the health threat of asbestos dust in the small quantities brought into a house on a worker’s clothing was not understood until long after 1965, the year when the junior Cox’s household exposure ceased. DuPont is preparing an appeal. Even if the verdict stands, the company anticipates significant offsets from other parties under West Virginia joint and several liability law. Barber tried the case with Ronald L. Motley and Paul H. Hulsey of Ness Motley of Mt. Pleasant, S.C.

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