June 25, 2014

Missouri Court of Appeals affirms $80 million in punitive damages (Blanks v. Fluor)

The Missouri Court of Appeals last week issued an opinion addressing a $320 punitive damages verdict, one of the largest we have seen in recent years.  The opinion affirms $80 million in punitive damages against two defendants, while reversing a $240 million punitive damages award against a third defendant.  The compensatory damages totaled $38.5 million.

The opinion is 180 pages long, but in a nutshell, the court affirmed the two punitive damages awards based on its conclusion that the defendants, who operated a smelter, acted with extreme reprehensibility when they knowingly disregarded the risk that the smelter would cause lead poisoning to the children nearby residents.  The court reversed the punitive damages against the third defendant due to an error in the jury instructions on issue of Missouri partnership law.  So the plaintiffs will have an opportunity to re-try that punitive damages claim, and they say they plan to do so.