Thursday, March 20, 2008
The Legal Intelligencer reports that after a reverse-bifurcated trial, a Philadelphia jury awarded $25.2 million in compensatory and punitive damages to compensate for malignant mesothelioma deaths. Plaintiffs in the three cases requested Kentucky law; two settled after the compensatory damage phase. According to plaintiffs’ attorneys, Kentucky law ultimately permitted the jury to award higher punitive damages than it could under Pennsylvania law. Here’s an excerpt:
His case, Baccus v. Crane Co., was brought against the Crane Co., John Crane and Yarway, a company. The defendants sought to have Kentucky law apply to the jury's findings in Baccus and the judge agreed. The jury had previously awarded $7 million in compensatory damages to Baccus and apportioned liability in the amount of 45 percent against John Crane, 35 percent against Crane Co. and 20 percent against Yarway, Shein said.
The jury, applying Kentucky law, also found Yarway and Crane Co. "grossly negligent for failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos in reckless disregard of the safety of others," Shein said. The jurors assessed $11.9 million in punitive damages against Crane Co. and $6.3 million against Yarway.
Shein said this is the first case in Philadelphia he has seen in more than 20 years in which a jury awarded punitive damages in an asbestos case. He said the standard for applying such damages in an asbestos case in Pennsylvania is "much, much higher." He said Pennsylvania usually defers the finding of punitive damages until later in the case whereas Kentucky law instructs the court to do it sooner.
The defendants, Shein said, wanted to apply Kentucky law because it uses an apportioned liability standard in which each of the defendants, even those who previously settled, are given an individual portion of liability. The Pennsylvania model is more akin to "in for a penny, in for a pound," Shein said, in which each defendant splits the damages equally.
"The thing kind of backfired on them because the jury held all of the settled defendants zero-percent responsible," he said.
The defendants that settled before the compensatory damages phase of the trial were Ingersoll Rand, THAN, IMO/DeLaval, Westinghouse, Owens Illinois and Goulds Pumps.