The plaintiff, Walter Miller, filed suit against a number of defendants alleging that his mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos through his use of a brake grinding machine manufactured by Ammco. At trial, the jury rendered a verdict in favor of the plaintiff and against the sole defendant remaining at trial, Hennessy Industries, Inc. (Ammco), in the amount of $25 million, consisting of $10 million for past pain and suffering and $15 million for future pain and suffering. A summary of that verdict can be found here. Ammco filed post-trial motions seeking entry of judgment notwithstanding the verdict, a new trial, or in the alternative, remittitur of damages.
Ammco made a number of arguments as to why the verdict should be set aside, arguing that: 1) it did not owe the plaintiff a legal duty to warn about the dangers of asbestos in automobile brakes, which was a product that it did not manufacture; 2) the evidence offered at trial was insufficient to establish general or specific causation under New York law; 3) an improper comment by the plaintiff’s counsel during opening statement warranted a mistrial; 4) it was entitled to a directed verdict on the plaintiff’s claim that it acted in reckless disregard of the safety of others and the court’s instruction on recklessness did not comport with the law; 5) the jury’s allocation of fault was against the weight of the evidence; and 6) the evidence offered at trial was insufficient to support the jury’s finding that the plaintiff used an Ammco grinder and that Ammco failed to exercise reasonable care by marketing its grinders without an adequate warning. In the alternative it argued that it was entitled to a new trial or remittitur because the jury’s award of damages was excessive. The court rejected all of these arguments except as to the amount of the award of damages. Of note, the court rejected the argument that there is no duty to warn as a matter of law and said that was an issue for appeal and rejected the argument that there was sufficient evidence to support general and specific causation.
As to the jury’s award of damages, the court agreed that the award of damages to the plaintiff of $10 million for past pain and suffering and $15 million for one year of future pain and suffering was excessive. The court applied the standard of whether the award deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation by comparing the instant case with analogous cases with awards that have previously been upheld. The court determined that “based on all the circumstances of the plaintiff’s injuries, the award of $10 million for past pain and suffering and $15 million for one year of future pain and suffering deviates materially from what would be reasonable compensation.” The court ordered the award for past and future pain and suffering vacated and a new trial was ordered on the issue of damages for past and future pain and suffering unless the plaintiff stipulates to reduce the award of damages for past pain and suffering to $5 million and future pain and suffering to $4 million.