NYC Asbestos Litigation Update: Plaintiffs May Seek Punitive Damages

  • Apr 28, 2014
  • Christopher Placitella
  • Product Liability

Earlier this month, a state court judge ruled that asbestos victims may seek punitive damages against Crane Co. and other defendants that are facing asbestos lawsuits in New York City.

Moreover, the plaintiffs asserted that the deferral of punitive damages emboldens asbestos companies to resist engaging in reasonable settlement discussions.

The ruling sets aside a provision in a case management order issued by the court in 1996, which required that all punitive damage claims in asbestos cases to be “deferred until such time as the court deems otherwise, upon notice and hearing.”

In requesting to overturn the deferral of punitive damages, the plaintiffs argued that the asbestos litigation landscape has dramatically changed since 1996, such that the policies and considerations underlying the deferral of punitive damages no longer apply. Plaintiffs also pointed out that asbestos plaintiffs in other states and in other counties within New York State are allowed to assert claims for punitive damages.

Moreover, the plaintiffs asserted that the deferral of punitive damages emboldens asbestos companies to resist engaging in reasonable settlement discussions. In addition, the plaintiffs argued that the prohibition of punitive damages claims is unconstitutional and that, as a matter of public policy, punitive damages serve the important goal of deterring dangerous conduct not just by asbestos companies, but by makers of all types of dangerous products.

Attorneys for Crane Co. opposed the plaintiffs’ motion, arguing that “the specter of large punitive verdicts will inflate settlement values, resulting in fewer resources with which to compensate future asbestos victims.”

Crane Co. (not to be confused the stationary maker Crane & Co.) manufactures engineered industrial products used in aerospace, electronics and petrochemical industries. Crane is also one of the largest manufacturers of snack and soda vending machines in America. Its employees and other individuals harmed by the asbestos that was once used in its products have filed over 80,000 lawsuits against the company. In 2007, Crane set aside $390 million for its predicted asbestos liability through 2017.

Rejecting Crane’s arguments, the Honorable Sherry Klein Heitler observed that “modern cases have recognized the remedy of punitive damages to punish for extraordinary wrongdoing and to deter harmful conduct” and that “the consensus today is that punitive damages are not aimed at compensation but at retribution and deterrence.” Judge Heitler also noted that the “defendants’ fear of large, repetitious punitive damages verdicts in the New York City asbestos litigation may be exaggerated.”

Author Bio: Christopher Placitella is a founding partner of the law firm Cohen Placitella & Roth, P.C. Mr. Placitella has established a national litigation group dedicated to effectively representing individuals who suffer from mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. An experienced litigator, Mr. Placitella represents individuals injured by defective products and drugs, toxic substances and environmental hazards.

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