Huge Asbestos Verdict Taken Away by Virginia High Court

You get a big verdict. Defendant’s big bone of contention on appeal is an evidentiary issue. When this happens, and it has happened to me a number of times, you are feeling pretty good about your chances. Particularly when the standard is – as it is for most evidentiary issues – an abuse of discretion.

There were some Virginia lawyers probably feeling the same way. That is until last week when the Virginia high court flipped their $18 million verdict against Exxon.

Plaintiff got a wrongful death verdict against Exxon in a lawsuit involving a man who developed mesothelioma while working on Exxon ships. Suffice to say, the jury was not happy with Exxon, awarding $12 million in compensatory damages, $12.5 million in punitive damages and nearly a half a million in medical damages. The punitive damage award was knocked back to $5 million, still leaving the plaintiff with a nearly $18 million verdict.

Exxon’s contention on appeal was that it should have been permitted to introduce evidence about the Shipyard’s knowledge and safety measures. Why? Exxon argued, successfully as it turned out, that the jury was given the false impression that Exxon had special knowledge which might have influenced the verdict. This was especially important because Exxon wanted to advance the defense that it had no duty to intervene because Exxon would have been acting reasonably in relying on others to protect its own workers.

Would it have made a difference to the jury in this case? They awarded $12.5 million in punitive damages for crying out loud. I doubt it would have made a difference. Could it have? I suppose so.

So Exxon gets another shot. But there is no reason to believe the facts have changed all that much. Does Exxon really want to try this case again? I have to think this case is going to settle unless their is some blood feud on the part of Exxon or the plaintiffs.

You can find the court’s opinion in Exxon v. Minton here.

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