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An Arkansas jury has returned a unanimous defense verdict for three major paint manufacturers in a wrongful-death case charging the defendants with causing a man’s death by prolonged exposure to benzene. PPG Industries Inc., Sherwin Williams Co. and E.I. du Pont de Nemours & Co. were sued by the estate of auto-body repairman Randall Roach for wrongful death related to Roach’s exposure to paints, thinners and solvents containing trace amounts of the carcinogenic chemical. Roach’s estate claimed that exposure to the defendants’ products over 22 years caused him to develop acute myelogenous leukemia (AML), from which he died at age 44. The suit initially named six defendants. Manufacturers 3M Co. and W.M. Barr & Co. and distributor Auto Body Supply Inc. all settled before trial for undisclosed amounts. The trial went forward against the remaining three defendants on a theory of strict products liability that included claims of design defect and failure to warn. The estate alleged that the products were defective because they contained benzene and that the defendants failed to warn of the link between benzene and AML. According to DuPont attorney Andrew Schirrmeister, the defendants argued that the amount of benzene in their products was less than 0.1 percent, the maximum allowed by OSHA. The defense also argued that Roach suffered from an AML subtype not usually associated with benzene exposure; that he suffered no chromosomal damage, another indicator of benzene exposure; and that the 10-year latency period of benzene exposure did not match his chronology because Roach had allegedly been exposed to benzene for 22 years. Roach’s estate asked the jury for $1 million per defendant in punitives, $3.4 million in hedonic damages and unspecified damages for 11 family members. James R. Miller, lead counsel for Sherwin Williams and PPG, said there would have been “great implications for the paint industry” if the Nov. 14 verdict “had been rendered in the plaintiff’s favor.” Roach’s lawyer, D’Juana Parks of Beaumont, Texas’ Provost & Umphrey, said she plans to move for a new trial based on the exclusion of testimony from Roach’s treating physician and on not being allowed to submit a negligence claim to the jury. Parks tried the case with partner J. Keith Hyde and associate Rodney Barnwell.

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