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Appellate Division Reverses Trial Court’s Denial of Dismissal of Punitive Damages Claim

Supreme Court of New York, Appellate Division, First Department

Plaintiffs Victor Arana and Romeo Maffei, both allege asbestos exposure from working with asbestos cement pipe previously distributed by the defendant, J-M Manufacturing Company.

In these actions, the plaintiffs sought punitive damages against JMM as the company did not place a warning on all of the pieces of pipes it distributed. JMM moved for summary judgment on the punitive damages claim, which the trial court denied. JMM appealed the trial court’s decisions.

Ultimately, the Appellate Division reversed the trial court’s decisions. The court cited previous First Department caselaw, noting that “[e]ven where there is gross negligence, punitive damages are awarded only in ‘singularly rare cases’ such as cases involving an improper state of mind or malice or cases involving wrongdoing to the public.”

Indeed, the Appellate Division did not find “evidence of a concerted effort to suppress information about the dangers of asbestos.” Instead, the court found that “the product came with multiple warnings that it could not safely be worked with using dry saws or the like. To the extent that those warnings were not present on each piece of pipe might evidence negligence, it does not evidence malice.”

Thus, the court reversed the trial court’s denial of JMM’s motions for summary judgment to dismiss the respective plaintiff’s punitive damages demands. 

Read the Maffei decision and Arana decision