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Missouri Court, Applying Maryland Law, Upholds $4 Million Verdict, Rejecting Arguments on Expert Challenges, Offsets, and Defective Damages Verdict

Court of Appeals of Missouri, Eastern District, Division Four, September 22, 2015

In this case, the plaintiff worked as a steamfitter between 1958 and 1983 at a variety of industrial and commercial sites. Of the original 57 defendants, only valve manufacturer Nibco, Inc. went to trial, which resulted in a $4 million plaintiff’s verdict with the trial court applying Maryland law. On appeal, Nibco raised four issues: it should have been granted a directed verdict; the plaintiff’s experts were allowed to offer opinions based on facts not in evidence; the lower court improperly denied setoff rights; and the lower court failed to grant a new trial based on differences in the damages amounts.

With respect to the directed verdict motion, the appellate court rejected Nibco’s argument that the plaintiff failed to prove any specific Nibco product caused or contributed to the plaintiff’s disease, stating: “Respondent testified that he was exposed to asbestos several times a week during his career while working with cement, insulation, boilers, pumps, valves, gaskets, and fittings, and he identified Appellant as having delivered those products on a regular basis. Respondent’s expert, Hays, testified that Respondent’s exposure was one of the highest lifetime doses he had ever seen working as an industrial hygienist. Counsel for Appellant at trial also elicited testimony from Hays on cross-examination about his review of Respondent’s deposition and the different types of products Respondent identified previously.”

With respect to the challenge to the expert opinion, the appellate court rejected the argument that the expert’s opinion stated that Nibco’s product “could” have been a substantial factor based on assumptions, stating: “This argument is without merit. As we previously stated, Respondent himself had testified about working with asbestos-containing products delivered by Appellant. Dr. Strauchen also relied on the report of Hays, Respondent’s industrial hygienist. Appellant argues this report only referenced Respondent’s deposition testimony, and not his trial testimony, and therefore the facts referenced were not in evidence. We disagree.” With respect to the setoff amounts, the jury was presented with evidence of three other admitted settling joint tort feasors, but no evidence of 15 other settling defendants. The appellate court held that Nibco was not entitled to the setoff of the 15 other defendants because the releases did not admit joint tort feasors status. Finally, the appellate court rejected Nibco’s argument that the verdict was defective under Missouri law because the court previously determined that Maryland law applied.

Read the full decision here

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