Sugar Refinery Defendant’s Appeal of Trial Verdict Denied

CALIFORNIA – Mark Lopez’s widow, plaintiff Lannette Lopez, brought suit against the defendant, The Hillshire Brands Company, arguing that Mark was exposed to asbestos as a child from his father and grandfather’s work at a sugar refinery owned by Hillshire, causing his fatal epithelioid mesothelioma. A jury awarded the plaintiff $1.9 million dollars in economic damages and $11 million dollars in noneconomic damages. Hillshire appealed, and raised challenges to the jury’s failure to apportion fault; to the jury instructions given; and to the sufficiency of the evidence generally. The plaintiff cross-appealed and argued that the trial court erred when it granted Hillshire’s motion for summary adjudication of punitive damages claims.

The court concluded that a jury could reasonably decide that Mark Lopez was both directly and secondarily exposed to asbestos from Hillshire, given evidence that Hillshire used asbestos insulation that his father and grandfather worked around, and given that Lopez visited the refinery frequently and played at the town dump where Hillshire allegedly disposed of their asbestos-containing products. They further concluded that Lopez was foreseeably at risk of harm from activities at the refinery, and that the jury was appropriately instructed on negligence principles. The court did not agree with Hillshire that a new trial was required because of the jury’s refusal to allocate fault to Johns-Manville, Fibreboard/Pabco, Anchor Packing and Garlock, whose products were found at the refinery. “We may not substitute our own judgment for that of the jury or set aside the jury’s findings if the record contains any evidence which under any reasonable view supports the jury’s apportionment.” Finally, the court concluded that summary adjudication on punitive damages was properly granted, as the evidence presented by Hillshire showed a lack of actual knowledge sufficient to show malice, fraud or oppression.

Read the case decision here.