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Oil Companies Sued Over California Asbestos Death

LOS ANGELES -- The family of a California man who died of asbestos-related illnesses has sued the oil company owners of refineries where he installed insulation during his 45-year career, claiming the firms are liable for his death, the family's lawyer said on Monday, according to Reuters.

His family's wrongful death suit names Chevron USA Inc., Standard Oil Co. of California, Shell Oil Co. and Texaco Inc. as defendants.

The widow and children of Edward Wood Jr. said the oil companies failed to warn the workers, who were employed by a subcontractor, that irreversible lung damage could result from their exposure to the asbestos-laden insulation they regularly changed on the refineries' pipes, lawyer David Rosen said.

"We believe the owners and operators of the refineries had more knowledge than the average building owner about the hazards of asbestos, and that's why they are being sued here," Rosen said.

Wood died of lung cancer and asbestosis, a scarring of the lungs related to inhalation of airborne asbestos fibers, the suit said. Wood had sued and settled with insulation manufacturers before he died in 2003, Rosen said.

ChevronTexaco, antecedent of Standard Oil and Texaco Inc. and parent of Chevron USA Inc., could not be reached for comment. A Shell Oil Co. spokesman had no immediate comment.

Rosen said he has succeeded in obtaining settlements in a number of cases brought by workers who were exposed to asbestos in refineries. "In the same way that Chevron would shut down work in its refineries if there was a leak of chemicals ... they should have done something to protect workers even brought in by a subcontractor," Rosen said.

The number of asbestos personal injury claims against U.S. companies has risen dramatically since the 1980s and topped 500,000 claimants by 2001, according to a Rand Corp. study. By 2001, U.S. insurers had paid $21.6 billion in asbestos litigation claims, and five corporations reported paying more than $1 billion each in litigation costs, the study said.
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