Exxon Mobil Corp., showed “reckless and reprehensible” behavior by failing to protect workers from dangerous radioactive material in used oil-drilling pipes, a lawyer for 16 men told a Louisiana jury.
“Exxon recklessly put profits above workers’ safety,” Frank Buck told jurors in Gretna, Louisiana, in his closing argument at the end of a five-week trial.
Buck told jurors they should award more than $17 million to a group of 16 pipe workers who sued Exxon, claiming they were exposed to high levels of radium in the residue, or “scale,” that built up inside the pipes and now fear they may develop cancer.
The workers, all former employees of Intracoastal Tubular Services, or ITCO, at a site in Harvey, Louisiana, near New Orleans, claimed that internal Exxon memos showed the Irving, Texas-based company had information about the risk beginning in the 1930s. ITCO, which went out of business in 1992, is also a defendant in the trial.
The workers claim Exxon delayed disclosing the radiation danger to prevent federal authorities from reclassifying as hazardous waste the radioactive water it pumped from wells. An internal Exxon document estimated the cost of the regulatory change at $750 million the first year plus $150 million a year thereafter, Buck told jurors.
The plaintiffs are seeking $1.3 million for medical monitoring, additional pay ranging from $50,000 to $150,000, depending on each worker’s estimated radiation exposure, and $15 million in punitive damages.
The claims in the Gretna trial are among thousands pending against Exxon and other oil companies over allegations that they put employees and residents near pipe-cleaning operations at risk from radiation-related diseases, particularly cancer.
The owners of the Harvey property won a $1 billion punitive jury verdict against Exxon in 2001 over claims of radioactive contamination from the pipe-cleaning operation. The punitive judgment was reduced to $112 million and paid, with interest, after Exxon’s appeals failed.
None of the plaintiffs at trial has cancer. Exxon settled with three plaintiffs who had cancer and were scheduled to go to trial with the group.
In the first trial over the site, for environmental property damage, a Louisiana appeals court upheld the 2001 jury’s finding that Exxon was responsible for contamination, calling the company’s conduct “inexcusable.”
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