$5.5M Wrongful Death Damages and Pre-Trial Interest Payments Upheld on Appeal | Goldberg Segalla

Louisiana Court of Appeals, Fourth Circuit

In this asbestos action, David Stauder Jr. (deceased) developed mesothelioma after working as a pipe fitter for two decades. His daughters Jill and Shelley Stauder (respondents) brought a survivor and wrongful death claim against several defendants. After a December 2021 trial in which Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) was the sole remaining defendant, the jury found UCC negligent and liable for the injuries to the deceased. The jury awarded 20% to UCC. In connection with this complaint, the jury awarded the applicants $2,750,000 each for wrongful death. They were also awarded interest before the verdict.

UCC raised several questions during the appeal process. With regard to the award of death damages, the court found no abuse of power. UCC argued that the damages were “completely inconsistent with records” and “grossly inflated” as the price “exceeded any legal damages awarded to adult children in this circle”. In addition, UCC invoked Lege v. Union Carbide Corp., where the court found that paying unjustified damages for two non-declaring children constituted an abuse of power, and reduced their awards to $100,000 each.

The court quoted Youn v. Mar. Overseas Corp. for the claim that “[t]The discretion enjoyed by the trial court is wide and even extensive, so that an appeals court should seldom interfere with an award of general damages.” The court then submitted the testimonies taken at the trial regarding the applicants’ relationships with their father. After that review, the court found that the applicants had a “strong relationship with their father” and that both applicants were “in their own way devastated by his death”. Regarding the non-testifying appellant, the court noted that the attorney explained her absence citing “mental disability” and noted the existence of a medical certificate. In addition, during her absence from the hearing, two witnesses gave testimony about the non-testifying appellant’s relationship with her father. As such, the court found Lege not applicable to the facts contained herein. The court did not compare the level of wrongful death sentences with others in the circle because the court must first determine abuse of power to resolve this issue, according to Youn.

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The court also found no error in the district court ordering that UCC pay pre-judgment interest from the date of the original lawsuit, rather than the date of the amended lawsuit, which added UCC as a defendant to this case. On this issue, the court cited Cole v. Celotex Corp. for stating that “the pre-judgment interest relates to the date plaintiff filed suit against the first joint defendant.” The court thus confirmed the judgment of the district court.

Note – This decision is not final until the fourteen-day hearing period has expired.

Read the full decision here.