OKLAHOMA CITY, May 18, 2021 — An Oklahoma Court of Civil Appeals has affirmed an $8 million verdict awarded to the estate of an oil field worker’s stepson who died of mesothelioma in 2016 at the age of 38.
Following the May 2019 trial, a Pontotoc County jury awarded compensatory damages to the family of Brennen James Atkeson, who as a child had been exposed to a raw asbestos product manufactured by Union Carbide Corporation and distributed by Montello Inc., and asbestos from drilling rig products manufactured by National Oilwell Varco. The jury found that Mr. Atkeson’s disease resulted from asbestos fibers and dust brought into his home on the clothing of his stepfather, Ronnie Pratt, and that the defendants were negligent and liable for failing to warn workers of the dangers of the products.
The appellate court found the defendants failed to properly respond to pretrial discovery from the plaintiff to identify any unnamed third parties that might have liability. The appellate court also ruled that the defendants’ subsequent attempts to introduce third-party liability at trial were properly denied by the trial court.
“Despite their claims that they sought to introduce this evidence in order to relieve themselves of the legal duty to give better warnings, it is clear that their effort was to relieve themselves of that duty by passing it along to third parties, such as Mr. Pratt’s employers or the companies that purchased the drilling mud product from Montello,” the opinion states. “The trial court’s order outlawing such blame-shifting was properly entered.”
As to the causation issues raised by the defendants, the court found that – based on the evidence as well as testimony from a co-worker of Mr. Pratt and an expert witness for the plaintiff – a reasonable juror would conclude that the asbestos and asbestos-containing products manufactured by the defendants were used during the relevant time period.
“This opinion represents a clear and thorough review of the evidence, the district court’s rulings and the applicable law, and we are gratified by the outcome,” says Lisa Shirley of Dallas’ Dean Omar Branham Shirley, counsel for the estate. “It has been five years since Mr. Atkeson’s tragic and untimely death, and we trust this matter is now concluded.”
“This opinion hopefully closes a very sad chapter in the lives of Mr. Atkeson’s daughter and his family. Brennen Atkeson had his entire life in front of him when he was cut down by mesothelioma. His death and the pain it brought were entirely avoidable,” says Ben Braly, trial counsel for the estate.
The case is Kim Fox-Jones v. Union Carbide et al, Case No. 118290, on appeal from the District Court of Pontotoc County, Oklahoma.
Dean Omar Branham Shirley LLP is a nationally recognized trial firm that handles cases across the country for individuals who have suffered catastrophic injuries or have died as a result of irresponsible conduct of others. For more information, please visit www.dobslegal.com.