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$5.1Million Awarded in Exxon Mobil Cancer Case

February 21, 2002|LISA GIRION | TIMES STAFF WRITER

A former merchant seaman won a $5.1-million jury verdict against Exxon Mobil Corp. on Wednesday in a Los Angeles trial in which he alleged that toxic fumes emitted by crude oil caused his bladder and prostate cancer, lawyers said.

Dwayne Gregory, 54, served for seven years on oil tankers, including the former Exxon Valdez, which now operates as the Mediterranean. Gregory alleged that company officials waited 20 months to tell him that an Oct. 3, 1997, shipboard physical examination detected blood in his urine, a sign of possible bladder cancer, said Reed Morgan, one of his lawyers.

By the time Gregory was diagnosed, the cancer had spread to his prostate, Morgan said. "Now he has a high probability of losing his bladder and may lose his life."

Gregory, who now lives in Oregon, got treatment and chemotherapy and was prepared to return to work. Because of his condition, Gregory requested an assignment away from petrochemicals, either in port or on a tanker that carried something other than crude oil, said Robert Grey Johnson, another lawyer representing Gregory.

"The crushing blow was once he finished his chemotherapy and had four cancer surgeries, they fired him because they could only let him work in a nontoxic environment," Johnson said. "He has no medical benefits, no job and no pension. They just kind of discarded him. The jury was very upset about that."

Officials for Irving, Texas-based Exxon could not be reached for comment.

The 1997 physical examination was Gregory's first in five years with Sea River Maritime Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Exxon, Morgan said. According to Coast Guard regulations, such operations are required to obtain physical examinations for employees every 30 months.

A separate federal law mandates annual physicals and enrollment in a benzene surveillance program for workers exposed to the level of petrochemicals and hydrocarbons that Gregory was, Johnson said.

The verdict was reached after a two-week trial and two days of deliberations.

It includes $1.3 million for loss of earnings and medical expenses and $3.8 million for pain and suffering. Maritime law does not allow punitive damages.

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