Appellate Court Affirms Order for New Trial and Denial of Post-Judgment JNOV

CALIFORNIA — Following the conclusion of an extensive trial and creation of a special verdict form, the jury deliberated and rendered a special verdict in favor of one plaintiff, awarding substantial economic and noneconomic damages. However, the trial signed a judgment in favor of the defendant. Post judgment, the trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV), but granted the plaintiffs’ motion for a new trial. The Court of Appeal for the Second District, Division 4 of California affirmed the post-judgment orders granting the motion for a new trial and denying the motion for JNOV. Accordingly, the court remanded the case for a new trial.

This case involved a career brake mechanic, Henry Linsowe, the decedent who was diagnosed and passed away from mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos from working with a brake shoe grinder manufactured by the defendant. The plaintiffs sought general and punitive damages on strict product liability and negligence theories. The plaintiffs presented extensive evidence regarding the release of asbestos fibers attributable to work involving brake shoe grinders. The defendant argued that the decedent was not diagnosed with, and did not die from, mesothelioma. The defendant also argued that several other non-party manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos-containing brakes were also responsible for the plaintiffs’ losses.

The defendant was advised by the court to prepare a proposed judgment for the court. Ultimately, the jury found that the defendant’s brake shoe grinding machine was a substantial factor in causing the decedent’s illness, awarded the decedent’s wife $532,685.37 in damages. However, upon a finding that the defendant was 60 percent responsible, the proposed judgment was in favor of the defendant, with all the plaintiffs to take nothing. The plaintiffs objected to the proposed judgment, as it was inconsistent with the findings of the evidence. After the defendant filed a response arguing for the entry of the judgment, the court signed the proposed judgment without any changes.

The plaintiffs filed alternative motions for a new trial and JNOV. After two rounds of briefing and two hearings, the trial court denied the plaintiffs’ motion for JNOV, and ordered a new trial on the ground that the jury returned an inconsistent verdict and the judgment was against the law. The trial court specifically found substantial evidence supported the jury’s verdict. The decision most recently entered by the court affirmed the trial court’s rulings.