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West Texas jury awards Amarillo couple $11.1 million

Aug 24, 2001 | AP

A Nolan County jury has awarded an Amarillo couple $11.1 million after a jury decided the husband's lung cancer may have been caused by asbestos exposure.

Bob and Joyce Hutchison sued Combustion Engineering Inc., Owens Illinois Inc. and U.S. Gypsom in August 2000. U.S. Gypsom was later dropped from the case.

The six-day trial in the 32nd District Court ended after five hours of deliberations Tuesday. The case was filed in Nolan County because U.S. Gypsom is located there.

The Hutchisons could not be reached for comment Thursday.

Mr. Hutchison has mesothelioma - a lung cancer found in the pleura membrane on the outside of the lungs, Kenny Maxwell, one of the couple's attorneys, told the Sweetwater Reporter.

Three main factors can cause this disease, according to scientific evidence. About 80 to 85 percent of cases are caused by exposure to asbestos, he said.

Mesothelioma has a long latency period, and Hutchison could have had the cells for the cancer in his body a long time before the disease was ever detected, Maxwell said.

Maxwell said Mr. Hutchison was first exposed to asbestos around 1957 when he worked for Pacific Gas and Electric in California.

Mr. Hutchison had worked with Kaylo, a fiberglass product, and with boilers built by Combustion Engineering. He also had worked on brakes that had asbestos in them. Hutchison claimed that he was never made aware of the asbestos or warned of its dangers while he was being exposed to the material.

Maxwell said that the jury made the decision that the companies knew or should have known to warn Mr. Hutchison that asbestos was in the products he was working on and that it could be harmful to him.

Defense attorney Jeff Hastings of the Houston law firm Spain & Hastings did not immediately return a call from The Associated Press on Thursday.

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