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$5.5 Million Wrongful Death Damages and Pre-Judgment Interest Awards Affirmed on Appeal

Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit

In this asbestos action, David Stauder Jr. (decedent) developed mesothelioma after working as a pipefitter for two decades. His daughters, Jill and Shelley Stauder (appellees) brought a survival action and wrongful death action against several defendants. Following a trial in December 2021 where Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was the sole remaining defendant, the jury found UCC negligent and strictly liable for the decedent’s injuries. The jury apportioned 20% to UCC. As pertinent to this appeal, the jury awarded the appellees wrongful death of $2,750,000 each. They were also awarded pre-judgment interest.

UCC raised several issues on appeal. With regard to the wrongful death damages award, the court did not find an abuse of discretion. UCC argued that the damages were “wholly inconsistent with the record” and “grossly excessive” as the award “exceeds any jurisprudential award for damages to adult children in this circuit.” Further, UCC relied on Lege v. Union Carbide Corp., where the court found that wrongful damages awards for two non-testifying children were an abuse of discretion and reduced their awards to $100,000 each.

The court cited Youn v. Mar. Overseas Corp. for the proposition that “[t]he discretion vested in the trier of fact is great, and even vast, so that an appellate court should rarely disturb an award of general damages.” Thereafter, the court set forth the testimony elicited during the trial as to the appellees’ relationships with their father. After this review, the court found that the appellees had a “distinct relationship with their father” and both appellees were “devastated by his passing in their own way.” With regard to the non-testifying appellee, the court set forth that counsel explained her absence, citing a “mental disability” and noted the existence of a doctor’s note. In addition, two witnesses provided testimony as to the non-testifying appellee’s relationship with her father in her absence at trial. As such, the court found Lege inapplicable to the facts herein. The court did not compare the amount of the wrongful death awards against others in this circuit as the court must first find an abuse of discretion to reach that issue as per Youn.

The court also found no error with the district court ordering that UCC pay pre-judgment interest from the date of the original complaint, rather than the date of the amended complaint adding UCC as a defendant to this case. On this issue, the court cited Cole v. Celotex Corp., for the proposition that “pre-judgment interest relates back to the date the plaintiff filed suit against the first solidary defendant.” Thus, the court affirmed the judgment of the district court.

Note – This decision is not final until expiration of the fourteen-day rehearing period.

Read the full decision here.