Tire Manufacturer Found Grossly Negligent on Appeal of Jury Verdict

Carl Rogers was a longtime employee of The Goodyear Tire & Rubber Company.  After he died of mesothelioma, his wife, Vicki Rogers, brought suit against Goodyear.  At the conclusion of a three-week trial, the jury found by clear and convincing evidence that asbestos fibers from the Goodyear Tyler facility were a proximate cause of Carl’s mesothelioma that resulted in his death. The jury also found by clear and convincing evidence that Carl’s death resulted from Goodyear’s gross negligence. The jury also determined that $15 million should be assessed against Goodyear as exemplary damages and apportioned 90% of those damages to Vicki and 5% each of his daughters, Natalie and Courtney. After it applied the statutory cap on punitive damages, the trial court awarded appellees a total of $2,890,000. Vicki was awarded $2,601,000, and Courtney and Natalie were each awarded $144,500.

Goodyear appealed the trail court decision.  Goodyear contends that (i) the evidence is legally insufficient to show gross negligence; (ii) the evidence of causation is legally insufficient because appellees failed to rule out radiation as a cause of mesothelioma; and alternatively (iii) appellees’ exemplary damages should be reduced as a result of their failure to prove the full amount of economic damages found by the jury.  The Court of Appeals of Texas, Dallas overruled Goodyear’s first two issues, sustain its third issue, and suggest remittitur of part of the exemplary damages award.

In its first issue, Goodyear contends the evidence is legally insufficient to support the jury’s gross negligence finding. Gross negligence consists of both objective and subjective elements.  In reviewing the legal sufficiency of a finding that was required to be proved by clear and convincing evidence, we view the evidence in the light most favorable to the finding to determine whether a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief or conviction that its finding was true.  Based on analysis of the subjective and objective components required for gross negligence, the Court concluded a reasonable trier of fact could have formed a firm belief that Goodyear’s acts and omissions involved an extreme degree of risk and were grossly negligent.

Second, Goodyear asserts there is no evidence of causation because Plaintiff failed to rule out the radiation treatment Carl underwent for lung cancer as a plausible alternative cause of the mesothelioma.  In making this argument, Goodyear ignores the fact that plaintiff got a summary judgment ruling from the MDL judge that there was no scientifically valid epidemiology to create a causal relationship between therapeutic radiation for lung cancer and mesothelioma. Goodyear has not challenged the summary judgment ruling in this appeal and did not mention it in its opening brief.  Under the facts of this case, the court could not conclude that the evidence of causation is legally insufficient for reasons put forth by Goodyear.

Last, Goodyear contends the evidence is legally or factually insufficient to support the jury’s determination of Plaintiffs’ pecuniary losses and therefore the exemplary damages awarded in the judgment must be recalculated and reduced from $2,890,000 to $1,150,000.  The court agreed and applying the applicable law and suggested remittitur of exemplary damages exceeding $1,150,000.

Read full decision here.