A jury in Clark County, Nev., returned a verdict last month against Kinder Morgan Energy Partners in a work-related lawsuit brought by the family of a worker. Rick Lewis worked as a gasoline tanker-truck driver for the company in California and Nevada. From 2002-2008, he loaded gasoline at the Kinder Morgan terminal in Las Vegas between one to seven times per day and delivered the fuel to various retail outlets. As you may know, gasoline contains up to 3% benzene. Kinder Morgan operates various pipelines and approximately 180 bulk terminals nationwide. The Plaintiffs contended that Mr. Lewis’s repeated exposures to benzene in gasoline at the Kinder Morgan terminal caused him to develop Myelodysplastic Syndrome (MDS).
The Plaintiffs’ claims against Kinder Morgan were based on negligence and strict products liability. The jury found that Kinder Morgan was negligent and also liable as a distributor. It was contended that the Plaintiffs’ DNA showed specific chromosomal damage linked in the scientific literature with exposure to benzene. Kinder Morgan failed to monitor its premises for benzene exposure and disregarded normal industrial hygiene practices. It also failed to provide warnings to this worker and others on the premises of the dangers of benzene exposure from gasoline through normal bulk loading operations at its terminal.
Kinder Morgan claimed that gasoline is not a carcinogen, and contended further that benzene exposures were not a hazard at its Las Vegas terminal, or at its other locations. Kinder Morgan also claimed that it was not a “distributor” of benzene-containing gasoline, but the place involved was only a storage facility. Kinder Morgan also argued that the cause of Mr. Lewis’s MDS was unknown.
The $7.5 million verdict was broken down by the jury as follows: $700,000.00 for past medical expenses; $2,500,000.00 for the worker’s pain and suffering; $1,000,000.00 for past grief and sorrow of Hilarie Lewis; $2,500,000.00 for future grief and sorrow of Hilarie Lewis; and $800,000.00 for the loss of past and future income and earning capacity.
Prior to trial, confidential settlements were reached between Plaintiffs and several gasoline refiners. Plaintiffs had sought punitive damages, but the court granted summary judgment on that issue prior to trial. Kinder Morgan’s offer prior to trial was $20,000.00. Both parties had a number of experts in various fields, including toxicology, epidemiology, industrial hygiene oncology, and hematology. The Plaintiffs were represented by Keith Patton, Justin Shrader, and Robert Shuttlesworth of the Houston firm Shrader & Associates, LLP, and Cliff Marcek from Las Vegas. They did a very good job in this case.