ST. LOUIS — A $10 million punitive damages award in an asbestos case against gasket maker Crane Co. has been upheld by the Missouri Court of Appeals Eastern District.
In a May 2 ruling, the court affirmed a July 2015 jury verdict in favor of Jeanette Poage, whose husband James Poage was exposed to asbestos while serving as a machinist in the U.S. Navy in the 1950s. He died of mesothelioma in May 2012 before suit was filed.
The jury in St. Louis Circuit Court Judge Rex Burlison's court also awarded Poage $1.5 million in compensatory damages, which was later reduced to $822,250 based on Poage's settlements with other defendants, the ruling states.
Crane sought to reverse the judgment as a matter of law or at a minimum a new trial, arguing that Poage failed to prove breach of duty and causation elements of her claims. It also was seeking reversal or "at least a substantial reduction" of the punitive damages.
The appeals court decision written by Judge Colleen Dolan held that there was "substantial" evidence in the record showing that James Poage was exposed to "asbestos-laden" Crane valves during his four-year tenure on a Navy ship.
"Although no witness could recall a specific time they saw Mr. Poage working with relevant Crane products, Mrs. Poage adduced sufficient evidence for a reasonable jury to find Crane directly caused or directly contributed to causing Mr. Poage’s injuries," Dolan wrote.
Presiding Judge Sherri Sullivan and Judge Roy Richter concurred in the judgment.
The panel of judges also found that as a matter of law the punitive damage award was not "grossly excessive" and did not reach a point of "arbitrary deprivation of property."
"Mr. Poage suffered more than mere economic damages," Dolan wrote. "Mesothelioma is a gruesome disease."
The panel found that evidence on the record "supports a conclusion that Crane had actual knowledge their valves had a high probability of causing lung-related diseases to naval machinist.”
It further declined Crane's argument that the state's "long standing one-recovery-for-one injury principle" required a reduction in judgment based on what the plaintiff could expect to receive in future settlements.
"Although Crane states broad well-established equitable principles, it fails to cite to any authority allowing for an equitable setoff when a related statutory setoff is also available," Dolan wrote. "Statutory provisions take precedent over common law equitable maxims."