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Appeals Court Upholds $10 Million Punitive Damages in Asbestos Case

A $10 Million punitive damages award in an asbestos case against a northeastern-based gasket maker has been upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District. The asbestos victim was exposed to the deadly mineral in the 1950s while working as a machinist in the U.S. Navy. In May 2012, the machinist succumbed to mesothelioma. His death occurred before the suit was filed by his widow.

According to the St. Louis Record, “the appeals court decision held that there was "substantial" evidence in the record showing that” the naval machinist “was exposed to "asbestos-laden" valves during his four-year tenure on a Navy ship.”

"Although no witness could recall a specific time” they saw the machinist working with products manufactured by the gasket maker, the victims widow “adduced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find that” the gasket maker “directly caused or directly contributed to causing” the naval machinist’s injuries.

The panel of judges in the case also found that as a matter of law, the punitive damage award was not "grossly excessive" and did not reach a point of "arbitrary deprivation of property." Further, “the panel found that evidence on the record supports a conclusion that the gasket maker “had actual knowledge their valves had a high probability of causing lung-related diseases to naval machinist.”

The panel declined the gasket makers’ argument that the state's "long standing one-recovery-for-one injury principle" required a reduction in judgment based on what the plaintiff could expect to receive in future settlements. Although the gasket maker “states broad well-established equitable principles, it fails to cite to any authority allowing for an equitable setoff when a related statutory setoff is also available. Statutory provisions take precedent over common law equitable maxims.

In a May 2 ruling, the court affirmed the July 2015 jury verdict in favor of the widow, per The Record. The court also awarded the widow $1.5 million in compensatory damages, which was later reduced to $822,250 based on her settlements with other defendants.

 

Sources

Knef, Sam. "Appeals Court Upholds $10 Million Punitive Award in St. Louis Asbestos Case." St. Louis Record. The St. Louis Record, 10 May 2017. Web. 18 July 2017.