- October 1, 2013
- by Milton Stratos
- Comments Off on Richland County Jury Awards $38 Million in Negligence Action, Punitive Damages Likely Challenged
- posted in Judgments, Negligence, Personal Injury, Products Defect, Settlements
In Garvin v. Jackson, Crane Co. et. al., a Richland County jury awarded $38 Million on September 11, 2013, to a 74 year old plaintiff suffering from cancer in connection to his work on parts and machinery laced with asbestos. The jury awarded the Plaintiff $10M in actual damages and $27M in punitive damages, and awarded the plaintiff's wife $1M for her loss of consortium claim. The Plaintiff worked on industrial valves and parts for nearly 40 years, retiring in 2000. He alleged that the valves and gaskets which he routinely handled contained asbestos, and that the manufacturers were aware of the inherent dangers of producing products containing asbestos, but nonetheless continued to knowingly put their products in the marketplace.
There is little doubt the defendants will file post judgment motions or appeal the award in an effort to reduce their exposure.
For a discussion of post-judgment review of puntitive damages awards please read below.
The South Carolina Supreme Court and the South Carolina Court of appeals has taken a business-friendly stance as of late in addressing large awards, however the due process review remains largely intact.
Where punitive damages are challenged, the Supreme Court has outlined a post-judgment due process analysis which is to be the guidepost for the court in considering a trial court’s ruling on punitive damages. In the past the Supreme Court would conduct a due process review of punitive damages under the Gore and Gamble approach. Under Gore, the Court considered: (1) the degree of reprehensibility of the defendant’s conduct; (2) the disparity between the actual and potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the punitive damages award; and (3) the difference between the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases. Gore, at 575.
The Court would also take into consideration the Gamble factors: (1) the defendant’s degree of culpability; (2) the duration of the conduct; (3) the defendant’s awareness or concealment; (4) the existence of similar past conduct; (5) the likelihood the award will deter the defendant or others from like conduct; (6) whether the award is reasonably related to the harm likely to result from such conduct; (7) the defendant’s ability to pay; and (8) any other factors deemed appropriate. Gamble, 302 S.C. at 111-12, 406 S.E.2d at 354.
In 2009, the Court in Mitchell v. Fortis outlined an efficient method of conducting post-judgment review of punitive damages awards with judicial economy in mind. The court held Gable remains the relevant analysis, but only insofar as it adds substance to the Gore guideposts. Today in South Carolina the test as expounded by the Court revolves around reprehensibility, ratio (the disparity between the actual or potential harm suffered by the plaintiff and the amount of the punitive damages award), and comparative penalty awards (the difference between the punitive damages awarded by the jury and the civil penalties authorized or imposed in comparable cases).
*Please note the law is ever changing, and that the standard of review appellate courts should apply to a trial court’s post judgment due process review of punitive damages may have changed since the date of this article. Please always consult an attorney for an updated analysis of the law.
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