Boiler Manufacturer Granted New Trial Due to Plaintiff’s Counsel’s Comments in Closing Arguments

Defendant Weil McLain appealed the jury’s award of damages and punitive damages to plaintiffs to the Iowa Court of Appeals. The appeal stems from the death of Larry Kinseth as a result of his alleged exposure to asbestos containing products. Mr. Kinseth worked in the heating and plumbing industry beginning in 1957. As part of his work, he tore out old boilers and installed new boilers, both in residential and commercial applications. At the time, Mr. Kinseth was working in the heating and plumbing industry, boiler manufacturers sealed their products with asbestos as it was a fire retardant, and Mr. Kinseth was exposed to asbestos dust. Some of the boilers Mr. Kinseth installed were manufactured by Weil-McLain.

In the pre-trial conference, the court granted Weil-McLain’s motion in limine and ruled that the plaintiffs could not refer to the amount of money Weil-McLain spent on its defense or make any argument about the need for the jury to send the defendant a message through its verdict. After closing arguments, Weil-McLain filed a motion for a mistrial, claiming various comments by counsel for the plaintiffs violated the court’s rulings on the motion in limine in statements to the jury. The court denied the motion. The jury returned a significant verdict for the plaintiffs and found Weil-McLain was 25 percent at fault.

Weil-McLain appealed, claiming the district court should have granted its motions for mistrial due to the statements of the plaintiffs’ counsel during closing arguments. After reviewing the closing arguments, the Court of Appeals agreed with Weil-McLain finding that the plaintiffs’ counsel made multiple statements that were barred by the court’s ruling on the motion in limine. Specifically, the plaintiffs’ counsel referenced the amount of money Weil-McLain spent in defending the case highlighting the corporate wealth of Weil-McLain in contrast to that of the plaintiffs. The court noted that these errors were significant enough to prejudice the jury and more than simple error. In reversing the decision, the court commented, “This continuous disregard for the court’s rulings could not have been “a slip of the tongue” and was not an isolated incident.” As such, the Iowa Court of Appeals remanded the case for a new trial.

Read the full decision here.