Mississippi Valley Silica appeals judge’s damage ruling

JACKSON — Mississippi Valley Silica Co. has argued that a trial judge’s rulings prevented it from presenting an adequate defense of a damage lawsuit.

The company yesterday asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to throw out the $7.6 million award to the family of Robert Eastman. Eastman claimed he sustained irreparable lung damage from silicosis caused by inhaling sandblasting sand at his place of employment.

A Warren County jury ruled for Eastman in 2009. Eastman died while the case was moving from post-trial motions to appeal.

Eastman worked at LeTourneau in Vicksburg for 25 years. The lawsuit said Mississippi Valley Silica failed to warn of the potential harm that could be caused to users of the sand in sand-blasting operations.

In his lawsuit, Eastman said he used sand provided by Mississippi Silica and the company knew that the silica that it sold to LeTourneau could cause incurable silicosis if inhaled in sufficient quantities.

Andy Lowry of Ridgeland, representing Mississippi Valley Silica, said the trial judge declined to let the company argue to the jury that LeTourneau bore more blame because it failed to protect Eastman from a product everyone knew could be dangerous.

He said the Supreme Court should throw out the judgment or ordered new trial.

“It is the employer’s duty to protect its employees. We, as the supplier, had no duty to warn the company about what it already knew — you cannot breathe silica dust without proper care being taken.

“What were we to do? Were we required to walk about their site to make sure they are going to use it properly? The purchaser should have known the dangers,” Lowry said.

John T. Givens, a Jackson attorney representing the Eastman family, said the issue of fault by the employer was never raised during the trial. He said it came in a requested jury instruction that was denied and never present to jurors to consider.

Givens said the jury verdict should stand.

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