Washington Supreme Court Upholds $4M Asbestos Verdict
KING COUNTY, Wash. – Washington State’s Supreme Court recently upheld a $4 million verdict in favor of a contract worker who was exposed to asbestos as a result of the negligence of ExxonMobil Oil Corporation, the company that contracted with his employer. Schroeter Goldmark & Bender represented the family of the worker, Warren Wright, who died of mesothelioma caused by asbestos exposure.
Warren Wright’s son, Wayne Wright, brought a case against ExxonMobil and other defendants in 2018. The case against ExxonMobil proceeded to trial, which resulted in a jury verdict in favor of the Wrights, finding that ExxonMobil was liable for Warren’s illness and subsequent death. The jury awarded $4 million in damages, which the judge offset to $2.2 million to account for prior settlement amounts.
“ExxonMobil hired inadequately trained contract workers and then, with ExxonMobil’s knowledge, allowed those workers to endanger themselves by engaging in unsafe but presumably cost-saving practices forbidden to ExxonMobil’s own employees. Warren Wright died as a result,” said Schroeter Goldmark & Bender attorney Luke Garrett.
Beginning in the late 1970s, Warren Wright worked for Northwestern Industrial Maintenance (NWIM), which ExxonMobil hired in 1979 to perform work at its Ferndale, Washington, refinery. Although that work included handling asbestos-containing materials and ExxonMobil had state-of-the-art knowledge of the hazards such work entailed, the NWIM workers had not been adequately educated regarding those hazards or the precautions they needed to employ to protect themselves.
ExxonMobil appealed to the Washington Court of Appeals, raising arguments regarding jury selection, the evidence presented at trial, the jury instructions, and the trial court’s treatment of prior settlements. The Court of Appeals affirmed the verdict in December 2021, stating that the verdict could stand on the premises liability theory presented by Wright’s attorneys. ExxonMobil again appealed, bringing the case to Washington’s Supreme Court.
In its recently issued opinion, the Washington Supreme Court upheld the verdict, stating that the trial judge had the discretion to deny ExxonMobil’s request for a jury instruction on “known or obvious dangers.”
“We are pleased the verdict was affirmed, and we hope the Wright family is finally able to achieve some measure closure,” Garrett added.