Forty-two years after working as a carpenter for an independent contractor at a Unocal Corp. refinery near Long Beach, Calif., Ray Kinsman sued for damages in 1999 following a diagnosis of terminal, asbestos-induced lung cancer.

A trial court jury hit Unocal with more than $3 million in damages. But San Francisco’s 1st District Court of Appeal reversed in 2003, saying the oil giant couldn’t be held liable for injuries to a contractor’s employee without proof that the corporation concealed underlying dangers or took action that directly contributed to the injury.

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