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Drilling Mud Defeat or Mere Fork in the Road?

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Jackson, MSWhat a difference a year can make. Last April, Thomas Brown was celebrating what was heralded as the largest asbestos award for a single plaintiff in US history. Brown was awarded, by a trial jury, the unprecedented sum of $322 million in combined damages for injuries allegedly stemming from his work with drilling mud.

One year and two weeks later, Brown has nothing. The Associated Press (AP) reported last month that a second trial, ordered after the judge in the original trial was removed and the verdict tossed out, found this time for the defendant, Union Carbide.

From $322 million to zero in a year. The news is devastating enough. But Brown, who at nearly 50 claims to require an infusion of oxygen 24 hours a day, must continue to struggle with health issues while the team at Union Carbide—one of the defendants in the case—are presumably breathing a sigh of relief.

One of the more recent fronts in the litigation bulkhead over asbestos contamination is asbestos drilling. Long associated with insulation in old buildings and ships—and since being elevated to the forefront of public conscientiousness—asbestos and its various uses over time is a continuing story, and serving as an ongoing revelation to society.

Drilling mud, used in the oil drilling industry, is one of the more recent revelations concerning asbestos and its use. Many a drilling mud lawsuit has accused the manufacturers of asbestos drilling mud of turning a blind eye to the potential health effects of individuals working closely with the substance.

Plaintiffs say they had no idea the stuff could make them sick; that there was no indication from anyone that asbestos was contained in the material—until, that is, it became too late and plaintiffs found themselves with a drilling mud problem.

Plaintiff Thomas Brown was 48 and on oxygen when the record settlement was announced last year in his drilling mud lawsuit. However the defendants, in tandem with the original verdict, learned of a conflict regarding the judge on the case, and they petitioned to have him removed.

The verdict (and award) in favor of the plaintiff was subsequently vacated and a new trial ordered before a different judge, this time in Jones County. On April 26, the jury ruled in favor of defendant Union Carbide.

AP did not specify if Brown plans to appeal the ruling. Amongst the various drilling mud additives, asbestos can be the most lethal. Fibers can incubate in the body for years before emerging as mesothelioma, asbestosis or asbestos cancer. There is no cure.

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