A Pennsylvania jury found that benzene is a defective product whose exposure contributed to the development of cancer of the blood and bone marrow, otherwise known as acute myelogenous leukemia (AML).
In the years 1973 to 2006, the plaintiff, Louis DeSorbo, worked with printing solvents and inks that contained benzene. He routinely cleaned various parts and areas of the printing presses and tools. On Jan. 21, 2013, DeSorbo, in his mid-50s, was diagnosed with AML.
He filed a lawsuit against U.S. Steel claiming that under the theory of product strict liability and design defect and failure to warn and claims of fraudulent concealment and recklessness, the company was liable for his development of AML. There were other companies also named as defendants. The claims against those other entities were either dismissed or resolved for terms that were not disclosed. Those other entities were out of the case before the start of this trial.
The attorneys representing DeSorbo maintained that U.S. Steel had actual knowledge of benzene’s ability to cause leukemia and fatal blood diseases. It was also claimed that U.S. Steel intentionally withheld the information from the public. Internal memoranda from 1952 to 1953 discussed U.S. Steel’s concern about cancer-causing risks in the area of its Pittsburgh-based plant that made benzene and questioned the requirement of putting warning labels on its benzene products. That revelation was presented to the jury for consideration.
The experts for the plaintiff were in industrial hygiene and engineering. They both testified about the worker’s exposure to benzene, which occurred by way of inhalation and skin absorption. It was maintained that U.S. Steel chose not to provide warnings that benzene caused cancers and fatal blood diseases. The plaintiff’s experts also testified that U.S. Steel chose not to advise users to make use of personal safety equipment like respirators. In addition, it was claimed that no warnings were given to users of products that contain benzene.
One of the experts for the plaintiff was an epidemiologist who discussed the history surrounding benzene’s health risks. It was said that as early as 1897, it had been known that benzene caused aplastic anemia and by the 1920s, reports began to come forward about benzene being associated with leukemia.
On the other hand, U.S. Steel denied that it withheld information on the alleged health risks related to benzene exposure. Its experts in epidemiology maintained that DeSorbo’s benzene exposure did not cause his leukemia. The jurors determined that U.S. Steel’s benzene was defective, that it materially contributed to DeSorbo’s disease and that the company acted with reckless indifference to the rights and/or safety of others and fraudulently concealed material information about benzene. In addition to the jury verdict of $824,000, the jury included past medical costs, future medical costs, past and future pain and suffering and lost wages and benefits.
It is also entirely possible that the jury’s verdict finding recklessness may also lead to an additional award of punitive damages against U.S. Steel.
The attorneys representing DeSorbo were Andrew DuPont and Jenna Kristal Egner.
Kreisman Law Offices has been handling toxic tort cases, benzene exposure and injury cases, diesel fume exposure cases, work injury cases and product defect cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas including, Lockport, Burr Ridge, Countryside, Country Club Hills, Cicero, Chicago Heights, Buffalo Grove, Justice, Hinsdale, Hazel Crest, Blue Island, Lemont, Joliet, Harwood Heights, Harvey, Orland Park, Thornton, Tinley Park, Willow Springs and Worth, Ill.
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