April 11, 2017, PLLR E-Newsletter
Silica supplier’s failure to warn caused sandblaster’s fatal lung disease
The plaintiffs alleged that the defendants—more than 20 companies that mined and sold silica for use in sandblasting—failed to warn of the health risks of silica exposure. Sampson v. Pangborn Corp.
From 1959 to 1964, Rivers Sampson worked as a sandblaster using sand that contained silica as an abrasive agent. In 2014, at age 77, Sampson died of sepsis and silicosis—a progressive disease caused by inhalation of silica dust, which results in inflammation and scarring of the lungs.
Sampson’s two surviving adult children sued more than 20 companies that mined and sold silica for use in sandblasting, alleging that the defendants failed to warn of the health risks of silica exposure. Various defendants settled before trial for confidential amounts or were otherwise dismissed, and the case went to trial against Mississippi Valley Silica Co.
The plaintiffs sought punitive damages, alleging that the defendant’s failure to warn of the known health hazard constituted actual malice or gross negligence evidencing a willful or wanton disregard for safety. The plaintiffs asserted that the defendant failed to add product warnings regarding the health hazards of silica exposure until 1972, although the industry was aware of the dangers since at least the 1930s.
Although Sampson was never formally diagnosed with silicosis, the plaintiffs’ medical expert testified that based on Sampson’s exposure history and changes on his X-ray, he had silicosis and the disease was a contributing cause of his death. His death certificate also listed it as a contributing cause.
Mississippi Valley countered that the plaintiffs failed to prove that their father had silicosis and argued that he had died from sepsis.
The jury awarded $800,000 in compensatory damages, including $400,000 to each child, and $100,000 in punitive damages. The jury allocated fault at 50 percent to Mississippi Valley Silica and the remainder to other companies. After allocation of fault, the defendant is responsible for $500,000.
Citation: Sampson v. Pangborn Corp., No. 2014-90 (Miss. Cir. Ct. Jefferson Cnty. Feb. 28, 2017).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ members Patrick C. Malouf and John T. Givens, both of Ridgeland, Miss.; and Dennis C. Sweet III, Jackson, Miss.
Plaintiff experts: Edward Karnes, human factors, Morrison, Colo.; and Obie McNair, pulmonology, Jackson.
Defense experts: Demondes Haynes, pulmonology, Jackson; and Timothy Usey, diagnostic radiology, Ridgeland.