JACKSON, Miss. (AP) — Attorneys for Texaco Inc. argued Monday that no evidence showed the oil company was responsible for ailments of children born to five women who claimed they were exposed to leaded gasoline fumes.
Texaco, now part of Chevron, asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to throw out a $17 million verdict for the women.
A Hinds County jury ruled for the women in 2010. Texaco, which is now part of Chevron, appealed.
The women claimed they were pregnant when they worked in an old Jefferson County office building in Fayette, which previously was a gasoline station affiliated with Texaco. The women sued, saying they were exposed to leaded gasoline fumes from tanks left in the ground when the former station was renovated. As result, they claimed their children were born with disabilities and illnesses.
Wayne Drinkwater of Jackson, an attorney for Texaco, said the company didn't own or operate the station and leaks in the underground storage tanks were not its fault.
"There was no evidence that the operators were Texaco agents and Texaco was not responsible for anything they did," Drinkwater said. "This was not our service station."
Under law, Drinkwater said because Texaco did not own the land where the service station was located, it did not own the underground storage tanks and was not required to maintain them.
Eduardo Flechas, representing the families, said it is clear on the record that Texaco did nothing to inspect or maintain the storage tanks.
"All the elements of negligence are there," Flechas said.
He said the court record showed Texaco had control of the tanks when the leak occurred between 1974 and 1976.
"There is no question on the record that Texaco was owner during this time (of the leak). Texaco controlled how much gasoline was sold. It knew how much was going in the tanks," Flechas said. "You had evidence of control with respect to the tanks."
Flechas said there no evidence that the station owner could have bought gasoline from someone else.
He said there was testimony at the trial that it was Texaco's usual practice to buy all the property when they take over a service station. He said that would include the tanks.
"This was factual dispute that went to the jury," Flechas said.
The Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality had the tanks and contaminated soil removed in 2000.
The trial was moved from Jefferson County to Hinds County.