In April, the U.S. District Court Eastern District of Louisiana upheld the reduction of a large toxic tort verdict in James Gaddy, et al. v. Taylor-Seidenbach, Inc., et al., No. CV 19-12926. Plaintiff sought reconsideration of the remitted verdict which reduced the jury’s initial award of general damages from $7.5 million to $3 million.
James Gaddy alleged he was diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos while working as a chemical engineer from 1948 through 1960. The plaintiff initially filed suit against several entities, but only the Ethyl Corporation (Ethyl), where he worked from 1955-1960, remained at the time of trial. The jury found Ethyl liable for negligence and strict liability, awarding Gaddy’s estate $7.5 million in general damages ($2.5 million for physical pain and suffering, $2.5 million for mental anguish, and $2.5 million for loss of enjoyment of life), and $250,661.45 in medical expenses. The jury also found that two additional entities were liable. According to the virile share doctrine in Louisiana, Ethyl was responsible for $2,583,553.82, or one-third of the total award. Ethyl filed a motion for new trial or alternatively for remittitur arguing that the amount of the verdict was so excessive as to shock the conscience.
The Court found in favor of Ethyl regarding the excessiveness of the jury’s verdict. The Court applied the Fifth Circuit’s “maximum recovery rule” to determine whether the award was excessive by analyzing similar cases to determine what constitutes a reasonable verdict. The Court found that in factually similar cases juries in the same jurisdiction typically awarded $1.5-3 million. Considering this case involved an 86-year-old man who testified to experiencing little pain and passed away six months after receiving his diagnosis, the Court held that the jury’s large award was not justified by the evidence presented at trial. The Court remitted damages and held that an “appropriate award in this case is $3 million in general damages in addition to the medical expenses for a total award of $3,250,661.45.” Plaintiff then moved for reconsideration of the remitted verdict arguing that verdicts in similar matters have awarded higher damages and that the Court appeared to only consider a lack of evidentiary support for James Gaddy’s pain and suffering.
The Court denied Plaintiff’s motion for reconsideration holding that Plaintiff failed to demonstrate any new evidence or manifest errors of law or fact in ordering the remitted verdict. As a result, the Court upheld the reduced verdict in the amount of $3 million dollars and confirmed that was the maximum amount a reasonable jury could have awarded considering the facts of the case. Both parties have appeals pending in the Fifth Circuit.
Defendants in toxic tort matters in Louisiana have long been subject to large verdicts. (See our previous post detailing this issue.) However, the Court’s decision to uphold the reduction of a large toxic tort verdict in Gaddy indicates that limits do still exist.