WICHITA, Kan. -- A federal jury Friday awarded $3.15 million to the family of a former U.S. Coast Guard instructor who died of leukemia. The family claimed he died because of exposure to benzene made by Texaco Inc.
Jurors, who deliberated four days, awarded the family of Otis 'Butch' Mason $9 million, but stipulated Texaco was only 35 percent at fault, resulting in an actual award of $3.15 million.
Texaco, headquartered in Harrison, N.Y., said it would appeal the award.
The jury also decided other companies and the Coast Guard were at fault in the case. However, one company already had made an out-of-court settlement and others were dropped from the suit or not named as defendants.
Mason worked with benzene, a solvent, in the mid-1970s when he was an instructor for the Coast Guard in Norfolk, Va.
Mason returned to Wichita after he was diagnosed with leukemia, sued manufacturers which sold the benzene he had worked with, and died in 1979. His widow, Diana, and her two small children continued the suit.
Lawyers Gerry Michaud and Richard Cordry represented the family, seeking $7 million in actual damages and up to $8 million in punitive damages. They claimed Texaco failed to warn individuals of the dangers of benzene.
The jury Friday awarded no punitive damages.
'We were very disappointed in not having punitive damages assessed because we felt that was one of the penalties that would prevent Texaco and other companies from continuing to do what we feel is wrong,' Michaud said. The companies fail to inform people about the dangers of benzene, he said.
Some household products still contain benzene, including paint strippers, paint thinners and glue used for model airplanes, Michaud claimed. The American Petroleum Institute in Washington says benzene is present to a small degree in all petroleum products.
The jury awarded $25,000 to Mason's family in non-pecuniary losses, $3,475,000 in pecuniary losses, and $5.5 million for Mason's pain and suffering, Michaud said.
Texaco was disappointed by the verdict, a statement issued by the company said.
'It is the company's position that this verdict is not supported by the evidence, and is contrary to law,' the statement said. 'Texaco intends to make every effort to seek a reversal of the verdict through post-trial motions and if necessary by appeal to higher courts.'