Hartford resident claims benzene exposure caused cancer

Steve Gonzalez Jan. 3, 2007, 8:38am

Courtney and Jim Vostry filed a benzene lawsuit Jan. 2 in Madison County Circuit Court -- the first civil lawsuit seeking damages in excess of $50,000 this year.

According to the complaint, Courtney Vostry was exposed to and inhaled, ingested or otherwise absorbed benzene and other hazardous products which were manufactured, sold or distributed by 28 defendants. Some of the defendants include Apex Oil, BP, Conoco-Phillips, Marathon Ashland, Ozark Pipeline, Shell Oil and Sinclair Oil.

Benzene cases have rarely, if ever, gone to trial in Madison County. They are mostly either settled or dismissed.

The Vostrys are seeking a judgment against the defendants jointly and severally for actual compensatory damages as are fair and reasonable, in excess of $850,000 and in addition to the compensatory damages, punitive and exemplary damages excess of $150,000 plus all costs of the suit.

They are represented by Randy Gori of Goldenberg, Heller, Antognoli, Rowland, Short and Gori of Edwardsville. The case has been assigned to Circuit Judge Daniel J. Stack.

Courtney Vostry claims she was a resident of Hartford between 1967 and 1983. She also claims she visited the area through 2002.

According to the complaint, Vostry suffers from a chemically-induced disease, has become liable for large sums of money in medical expenses, suffers great physical pain and mental anguish, and fears that she will contract additional diseases as a result of her exposure.

She was diagnosed with myeloma in January 2005 and claims she became aware that the disease was wrongfully caused in April 2005.

Courtney Vostry's husband, Jim Vostry, also is seeking damages claiming he has been deprived of the services, society, companionship, love and affection of his wife. He also claims he was dependent on her for the necessities of life and other concomitants of married life.

Courtney Vostry claims her exposure to benzene was completely foreseeable and could or should have been anticipated by the defendants.

"The defendants knew or should have known benzene has a toxic, poisonous and highly deleterious effect upon the health of the persons inhaling, ingesting or otherwise absorbing them," the complaint states.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), benzene is an aromatic hydrocarbon that is produced by burning natural products. It is a component of products derived from coal and petroleum and is found in gasoline and other fuels.

Benzene, which is known to be a carcinogen, is used in the manufacture of plastics, detergents, pesticides and other chemicals.

With exposures from less than five years to more than 30 years, individuals have developed, and died from, leukemia. Long-term exposure may affect bone marrow and blood production. Short-term exposure to high levels of benzene can cause drowsiness, dizziness, unconsciousness and death.

Vostry claims the defendants failed to exercise ordinary care and caution for her safety, health and welfare by:

  • Including benzene in their products and processes, even though it was completely foreseeable that people living around them would inhale or ingest benzene;

  • Including benzene when adequate substitutes were available;

  • Failing to allocate any or adequate funds to test, monitor, and research the human health affects of benzene-containing products or processes on residents living in proximity of where benzene was being used;

  • Failing to provide any or adequate warnings to people living around the area;

  • Failing to recommend the use of adequate personal protective equipment inhaling or living around benzene; and

  • Failing to recall or cease using benzene and products and processes containing benzene.

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