Family of Louisiana Paper Mill Worker Awarded $4.5 Million

A jury in a Louisiana district court has awarded $4.5 million to the family of a West Monroe, La., man who died from an asbestos-related cancer in 2000.

The jury of three men and nine women delivered the unanimous verdict earlier this month in the courtroom of James Boddie Jr. in the Fourth Judicial District Court for the Parish of Ouachita.

Jurors deliberated for 2 hours before finding that Walter Graves Jr.'s employer had failed to provide Graves with a workplace free of the dangers of asbestos exposure, according to the Baton Rouge, La.-based law firm of LeBlanc & Waddell LLP, which represented Graves' family in the trial.

"The Graves family could have been saved from this loss had the defendant done the right thing by protecting its employees, including Mr. Graves, from the dangers of asbestos," said Cameron Waddell, lead counsel for the family. "We are grateful to the jury for holding the defendant accountable for this failure."

The jury's verdict totaled $4,539,925.02 in actual damages.

Waddell represented Graves' widow, Gertrude Graves, and daughters, LaDonna Graves Hixon and Karen Graves Barron. Other attorneys representing the Graves family at trial were Jody Anderman and Jeff Nicholson.

Jurors in the case were told how Graves was exposed to asbestos for decades while working at a Monroe-area paper mill from 1943 until his retirement in 1985. His employer, the Brown Paper Mill, was purchased in 1955 and changed names several times after that.

Graves' legal counsel contended that at no time during his employment did Graves receive warnings or any information on what precautions to take while working with and around asbestos.

The effects of exposure, including the onset of asbestos-related diseases such as mesothelioma, can take decades to surface. Graves was diagnosed with asbestos-related mesothelioma in April of 2000 and passed away 2 and a half months later.

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