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Drilling Mud: An Instant Millionaire and No Opportunity to Enjoy It

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Jackson, MSWhen the Mississippi Supreme Court vacated a drilling mud decision that originally awarded $15.2 in damages to plaintiff Troy Lofton, it did so based on a legal technicality and not over any doubt the plaintiff was suffering. Throughout the trial, the former oil rig worker was gasping for air and required oxygen around the clock—even in the courtroom.

And while the Court ordered a new trial to hear Lofton's drilling mud lawsuit, there had been hope the Court would reverse its vacate order originally handed down in June, following the $15.2 million verdict in favor of the plaintiff in April. However that hope was dashed at the end of August, when a motion aimed at having the decision to vacate reheard, was lost August 30.

The decision, which related to Phillips 66 Company et al v. Troy Lofton 2010-CA-01465-SCT, upheld the vacate order based on the conclusion that cross-examination of an expert witness based on exhibits not properly admitted into court, made for a "highly prejudicial" situation.

There is little doubt, however, that anyone having ever worked as a mud engineer would have in all likelihood been at risk for coming into close contact with asbestos, without knowledge or precaution.

Witness the YouTube video of Russell Eugene Nix, a drilling mud worker who described handling sackfuls of powdered drilling mud chemicals that went into a hopper used to mix asbestos drilling mud. Looking every bit the proud, southern man he was, who always put in an honest day's work for an honest wage, Nix told how he was diagnosed with asbestos mesothelioma, a diagnosis confirmed by no fewer than six doctors.

Nix said he would open what he remembered were 50-pound bags of drilling mud additives, and pouring them into a hopper. The material, he said, "was powdery and there was dust flying everywhere…when you was mixing a lot of [asbestos drilling mud] it was dusty, and it would get all over you…"

Nix said he never thought about protective respiratory equipment. When asked if anyone else, including his employer, made any mention of it, Nix smiled and answered, "no…"

Mesothelioma is almost exclusively caused by exposure to asbestos. Nix was given three months to live at the time of his trial, in a drilling mud lawsuit against Union Carbide Inc. (Russell Nix v. Union Carbide Corp., No. 2010-85-cv8), in the fall of last year.

In October the verdict went to the plaintiff and Nix was awarded $1.5 million. But due to his drilling mud problem, he had little opportunity to enjoy the money. He died, at his home, on January 14 of this year, just a week after his 75th birthday. It is believed the asbestos, so integral it seemed to the drilling mud composition, shortened his life and hastened his death.

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