Back in May, we wrote about a record-setting verdict which awarded more than $300 million to a plaintiff who had filed an asbestos lawsuit against two major companies. Immediately, one of the defendant companies stated that it would appeal on the basis of the presiding judge’s alleged conflict of interest. Last week, the appeals court ordered the judge removed from the case and halted all action on the lawsuit until a new judge is appointed. The status of the verdict, however, was not addressed.
The original asbestos lawsuit was filed against Union Carbide and Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. by a plaintiff who claimed that he had been exposed to asbestos while working on oil rigs in the Gulf of Mexico. The plaintiff has since developed asbestosis and must now be on oxygen at all times.
On May 4, a jury awarded the plaintiff $322 million in damages, the largest award ever made to a single plaintiff in an asbestos lawsuit. However, the punitive damages cap for the state of Mississippi, where the case was heard, would reduce the award by at least $260 million.
However, Union Carbide appealed, claiming that the father of the judge who presided over the case also suffered from asbestosis and had filed two lawsuits, one of which ended in a settlement with Union Carbide. Therefore, the company argued, the judge had a conflict of interest and would not be fully impartial.
The Mississippi Supreme Court agreed, ordering that the judge be removed from the case. There is no word yet on whether the removal will cause the verdict and damages award to be reversed.
Source: Bloomberg Businessweek, “Union Carbide Judge Removed From $322 Million-Verdict Case,” Andrew Harris, Oct. 6, 2011