Rising Verdicts in Recent Upstate New York Asbestos Cases May Lead To Higher Settlement Demands and Fewer Trials

In the last several months, there have been several significant plaintiffs’ verdicts in asbestos cases that may have lasting impact on the way asbestos matters are settled and tried in upstate New York. With any litigation, a company and its attorneys will assess jury verdicts in a particular jurisdiction when analyzing whether or not a case should be tried or settled. Three recent cases may encourage plaintiffs’ attorneys to seek higher settlement demands and make defendants less likely to pursue a case to jury verdict in upstate New York.

First, in the December 2014 case of Nash v. Navistar, a Syracuse jury awarded $7.7 million to the estate of an 81-year old deceased bus driver. The plaintiffs claimed that the driver was exposed to asbestos from 1957 to 1987 when he walked through the bus garage while others performed mechanical work on buses and that this caused him to develop mesothelioma. The verdict included $3 million for conscious pain and suffering (14 months); $3 million for mental anguish; $200,000 for loss of services from onset of symptoms to death; and $1.5 million for wrongful death. This award was considerable, given the driver’s age at the time of his death and the fact that he did not directly work with the claimed asbestos brakes, clutches, and gaskets associated with the buses. This verdict has been reported as the highest asbestos verdict in Syracuse, New York.

Next, in February 2015, a Schenectady jury in Chisholm v. R.T. Vanderbilt Com., Inc. awarded $10.55 million to the estate of a 52-year old mesothelioma decedent. Plaintiffs claimed that he was exposed to asbestos-contaminated industrial talc while working for a small ceramics business in high school that plaintiffs traced to a North Country talc mine in Gouverneur, New York. According to the man’s estate, the industrial talc was the main ingredient in the ceramics, and the man was exposed by pouring the talc to mix the ingredients. This $10.55 million verdict is reported to be the largest jury verdict in an upstate New York asbestos case. Even considering the decedent’s younger age of 52, this is still an extremely large verdict.

Finally, in March 2015, a Utica jury awarded $4 million to a living 63-year old mesothelioma plaintiff in Dominick v. Pacemaker Steel & Piping Co. In this case, the plaintiff claimed that the sole remaining defendant at trial – Pacemaker – supplied asbestos bags and boards his employer. Although the plaintiff claimed additional bystander exposure to asbestos brakes and other vehicle parts while working for the New York State Department of Transportation, all other defendants settled prior to the jury verdict. The jury apportioned 30% liability to Pacemaker, and the resultant award consisted of $1 million for past and $3 million for future pain and suffering. According to the plaintiff’s counsel, this was the largest asbestos verdict rendered by a jury in Oneida County, New York.

Together, these three verdicts demonstrate a trend of increasing jury awards in upstate New York. Plaintiffs’ lawyers are likely to now demand higher settlements in upstate New York cases, believing that defendants will be hesitant to risk being hit with one of the larger verdicts. On the flip side, defendants will have to analyze their cases more thoroughly to determine whether the perceived strength of their defense and the cost associated with fully litigating their case is worth the risk of the kind of potentially high verdict that upstate New York juries are currently rendering.

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