January 9, 2011

Oakland jury awards $13.5M in punitive damages in asbestos case

Courtroom Views is reporting that an Oakland jury awarded a total of $13.5 million in punitive damages against two defendants last Friday, January 7.  The jury had previously awarded $4 million in compensatory damages.

The case, Bankhead v. Allied Packing, is a personal injury action based on exposure to asbestos.  The two defendants who got hit with punitive damages are ArvinMeritor and Pneumo Abex.

Asbestos plaintiffs rarely recover punitive damages, because their claims usually involve conduct that happened decades ago, when little information was known about the dangers of asbestos.  That makes it very difficult to prove that defendants acted with malice, or that there is some need to punish and deter.  But when plaintiffs do manage to get a punitive damages claim to a jury in these cases, they can ring up some huge numbers.  Like $200 million, for example.  That award got a lost of press coverage, but it didn't last very long