Inhaling asbestos dust increases your risk for mesothelioma, lung cancer and asbestosis. Unfortunately, many workers were not aware of the danger asbestos posed. For decades, companies failed to warn workers of what they knew of the science behind asbestos exposure.
In April, a Manhattan jury awarded $60 million to the estate of a man who died from mesothelioma at the age of 56. The man had done demolition work on single-family homes in Brooklyn throughout the 70s and 80s. As part of that work, he was exposed to asbestos insulation from boilers.
Tragically, the man was unaware that many of the boilers he was ripping out contained dangerous asbestos fibers. Ultimately, the jury found that the boilermakers were reckless in surrounding their boilers with a known carcinogen. The $60 million verdict included punitive damages.
What are punitive damages?
In personal injury lawsuits, there is sometimes the option for “punitive damages.” In every lawsuit, the plaintiff (the injured person) is entitled to “compensatory damages.” Compensatory damages are expenses to the plaintiff caused directly by the defendant. In this case, for example, medical expenses such as chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are all compensable.
Other damages may be available as well, however. Punitive damages are not intended as compensation for any one thing, but as a deterrence. Punitive damages make society safer by discouraging unethical and harmful behavior by companies. Money drives the behavior of companies, and punitive damages are one way to truly get companies to care about the safety of their products.
New York’s asbestos courts
In New York, punitive damages are allowed in mesothelioma claims – for now. There have been calls to take away the right of juries to make defendants pay for their reckless and harmful actions. After New York’s most recent verdict, there have again been calls to curb the rights of mesothelioma sufferers and their families.
For now, it is still possible to get punitive damages. We will have to see whether that right continues.