A former Navy serviceman's $32 million asbestos product liability jury award was recently reduced by a New York judge. The veteran alleged that he developed mesothelioma after he was exposed to a variety of asbestos-containing products, including replacement parts for valves manufactured by the Crane Co., during his 17 years of service on Navy ships.
A jury found that the valve manufacturer acted recklessly in failing to warn of the dangers of asbestos. The jury awarded the veteran $16 million in past pain and suffering and $16 million for future pain and suffering.
The manufacturer moved for a judgment notwithstanding the verdict and asked the court to throw out the jury's verdict or at least reduce the award as excessive. The manufacturer's motion was based on a variety of grounds, including its contention that it did not have a duty to warn the veteran that he could be sickened by his exposure to asbestos.
The veteran produced evidence that he was exposed to asbestos from gaskets, packing and insulation that were used during routine maintenance of the manufacturer's valves. There was a solid connection between use of the defective asbestos-containing products and the manufacturer's valves. The manufacturer did not make the asbestos-containing replacement gaskets and packing, but instead sold, supplied and, in some cases, rebranded the replacement materials as its own. There was also evidence that the manufacturer knew that other asbestos-containing products would be used with its valves.
The fact that the manufacturer knew that its nonasbestos-containing valves would be used with asbestos products led the court to conclude that it could be held liable for mesothelioma-related injuries arising out of the use of the asbestos products. This was sufficient evidence to support a product liability lawsuit based on a failure to warn theory. There was also sufficient evidence that the manufacturer had known of the dangers of asbestos since the 1930s, well before the veteran's exposure in the 1960s.
Although the manufacturer could not escape liability, the judge overseeing the case agreed that the jury award was excessive. The $16 million award for past pain and suffering was reduced to $5.5 million and the $16 million award for future pain and suffering was reduced to $2.5 million.
In its analysis regarding the reasonableness of the veteran's award, the court considered the fact that the veteran had no treatment for a year prior to trial and only one thoracentisis and tolerated chemotherapy well. The court also compared the verdict amounts in similar cases and found that those mesothelioma sufferers suffered more and received less than the veteran in this case. The veteran has the option of accepting the reduced jury award or going through a new trial.
Source: Dummitt v. A.W. Chesterton et al., No. 1090196/10, 2012 WL 3642303 (N.Y. Sup. Ct., N.Y. County Aug. 20, 2012).