Appellate court affirms asbestos damage award against Kaiser

Most asbestos cases are settled by agreement of the parties before trial, but occasionally, a case not only is tried to a verdict but is subjected to review by an appellate court. In a recent decision that should provide encouragement to asbestos plaintiffs in North Carolina (and in California, where the case arose), an appellate court affirmed a jury verdict asbestos product exposure against Kaiser Gypsum Company for more than $5 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages.

The plaintiff and his wife alleged that he had been exposed to asbestos from products manufactured by Kaiser, including drywall, joint compounds and cements. After a 10-week long trial, the jury awarded the plaintiff $21 million in compensatory damages but could not reach a verdict on punitive damages. After an appeal, the issue of punitive damages was tried again. This time, the jury awarded the plaintiff $21 million in punitive damages, but the trial court reduced the award to $4 million. Kaiser appealed, contending that the trial court committed a number of procedural errors.

The appellate court upheld the award of both punitive damages ($4 million) and compensatory damages ($1.4 million). The appellate court ruled that Kaiser had made no effort to warn its customers of the hazards of its asbestos products, even though the company was well-informed about the danger posed by of asbestos-containing products. The appellate court held that the evidence at trial “was sufficient to show malice, that is, despicable conduct coupled with a conscious disregard for the safety of others.”

Persons who believe that they may have contracted an illness caused by exposure to asbestos products should obtain a competent medical examination. If the exam results in a diagnosis of mesothelioma, asbestosis or any of the other respiratory diseases related to asbestos, A consultation with a lawyer who specializes in pursuing asbestos product liability claims can provide a useful evaluation of the case and an estimate of the likelihood of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: Legal Newsline, “Head of legal reform group says Calif. appeals court decision in asbestos case just adds to ‘hellhole’ reputation,” Jessica Karmasek, March 11, 2016