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$48 million jackpot justice asbestos award for 86-year-old

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According to government mortality tables, an 85-year-old male has a life expectancy of another 5.65 years. Unfortunately for Bobbie Izell, who worked in construction in the 1960s and 1970s, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma when he was 85, so his expectancy is a couple of years shorter. A year later, this month, a Los Angeles jury decided that this entitled him to $30 million in "compensatory" damages from ten defendants; coincidentally, the jury also found that the five defendants who were bankrupt or had otherwise settled were only 5% responsible collectively, while the deepest pocket, Union Carbide, was 65% responsible. Another $18 million in punitive damages were awarded against Union Carbide, on the theory that it should have unilaterally stopped selling asbestos in 1967, but didn't do so until 1985. Union Carbide denies liability entirely; the press coverage doesn't give any evidence on that one way or the other, or bother to explain the defendant's likely legitimate grievance. (Though precedent pretends otherwise, a jury that awards an irrational amount of damages almost certainly assigned irrational amounts of liability.) But the $30 million compensatory damages, nearly all of which is non-economic damages, is obviously absurd. What's the point of constitutional limits on punitive damages if the jury can effectively assess punishment twice under the guise of compensatory damages? [Similar on POL in 2006; law.com/NLJ]

Note that we have apparently gotten to the point where a $48 million verdict is dog-bites-man, and not especially newsworthy; this didn't make the Los Angeles Times or national news coverage other than specialty legal papers; the only blogs to cover it are the splogs that are advertising for asbestos attorneys.

The attorneys were from Baron & Budd; press coverage doesn't indicate whether they'd be sharing what would be millions of dollars of their fee with a "chicken catcher" lawyer who did nothing but recruit the client and pass along the file. Press coverage also doesn't indicate whether Izell has made paid claims with asbestos bankruptcy trusts inconsistent with the claims made at trial, or whether the defendants were able to obtain discovery from the trusts.

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Isaac Gorodetski
Project Manager,
Center for Legal Policy at the
Manhattan Institute
igorodetski@manhattan-institute.org

Katherine Lazarski
Press Officer,
Manhattan Institute
klazarski@manhattan-institute.org

 

Published by the Manhattan Institute

The Manhattan Insitute's Center for Legal Policy.