Jury Verdict of $32.7 Million Against Insulation Manufacturer Upheld Based on Weight of Evidence United States District Court, M.D. North Carolina, May 1, 2019

NORTH CAROLINA — The plaintiff Ann Finch filed suit on behalf of herself and the plaintiff’s decedent, Franklin Finch, alleging that his exposure to asbestos caused his mesothelioma. The plaintiff resolved or dismissed her claims against all parties outside of Covil Corporation (Covil), and the case was tried in October of 2019. The court charged the jury on North Carolina state law negligence and failure to warm claims. The jury found Covil liable on both counts, and returned an award of $32.7 million in damages.

Covil appealed, and asked the court two things: 1) to set aside the jury verdict and grant it judgment as a matter of law on the basis that the plaintiff failed to present evidence sufficient to support the verdict on liability and 2) in the alternative, granted a new trial based on the “cumulative effect of purportedly erroneous evidentiary rulings and jury instructions, improper arguments by plaintiffs’ counsel to the jury, and the excessiveness of the jury’s verdict.” To the extent the court denies its motion for a new trial on damages, Covil seeks remittitur.

The court held that the plaintiffs presented “a persuasive case on liability, proffering extensive direct and circumstantial evidence that Covil sold asbestos-containing products to the Firestone tire factory where Mr. Finch worked, at a time when it knew or should have known the products were dangerous to human health; that Covil did not provide pre- or post-sale warnings on or about its asbestos products; and that exposure to asbestos products sold by Covil was a proximate cause of Mr. Finch’s fatal mesothelioma.”

The court further stated that “though Covil did not emerge from this trial looking like a model corporate citizen and the plaintiff’s counsel did not pull any punches in her arguments that Covil should be held responsible for the harm caused by its negligence, the law does not require a plaintiff with the burden of proof to downplay the strength of her evidence or to sugarcoat the conduct of the defendant…The fact that Covil lost and the jury returned a large verdict is explained by the evidence, not by passion or prejudice.”

The court denied Covil’s appeals for judgment as a matter of law, or alternatively, a new trial and further denied leave to file a supplemental brief.

Read the case decision here.

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