Record $30.3 Million Asbestos Verdict Affirmed by New Jersey Court

04/14/2010

Chicago, IL (Mesothelioma News)-The largest verdict ever awarded in an asbestos-related mesothelioma lawsuit in New Jersey-$30.3 million-was upheld by a state appeals court on April 5. In its opinion, the court ruled against the defendants, Borg-Warner Corp. and Asbestos Corp. Ltd., on every legal issue they had raised, including the standard of causation to be applied in light of the plaintiff’s relatively short time working with materials containing asbestos.

The lawsuit, Buttitta v. Allied Signal, was brought by Susan Buttitta, whose advertising executive husband, Mark, was diagnosed with mesothelioma cancer in 2001; he died from the asbestos-related disease a year later at the age of 50.

Mark Buttitta was exposed to asbestos as a child: His father handled brakes and clutches containing the toxin while working at a General Motors warehouse in Bloomfield, New Jersey, and he had carried the asbestos fibers home on his work clothes. Susan Buttitta also had evidence that her husband was exposed directly to asbestos in the early 1970s while working with asbestos containing parts at a GM warehouse in Englewood during his summer and winter breaks from college.

The lawsuit was noteworthy because it combined the claims of direct asbestos exposure that are characteristic of traditional mesothelioma litigation with claims of indirect or so-called “take-home” asbestos exposure-a legal claim first recognized under New Jersey law by that state’s Supreme Court in 2006 in another mesothelioma lawsuit, Olivo v. Owens-Illinois, Inc.

In the Buttitta case, a Bergen County, New Jersey, jury in February 2008 awarded damages of $8 million for pain and suffering, $2 million for loss of consortium, just over $9 million for lost earnings, another $2 million for loss of services, and $3 million to each of Susan and Mark Buttitta’s three daughters for loss of parental care.

Borg-Warner and Asbestos Corp. appealed, raising issues including what standard of causation should apply in a mesothelioma case, whether a preliminary hearing was necessary to admit the testimony of the Buttitta’s expert witness, and whether liability should have been allocated against three other defendants who had settled before or during trial.

Mesothelioma-an asbestos-related cancer that almost always carries a poor prognosis-can develop from infrequent exposure to a relatively small amount of asbestos. That differentiates it from another asbestos-related disease, asbestosis, which generally does not develop under such circumstances.

Noting this difference, the appeals court agreed with Superior Court Judge Brian Martinotti that the “frequency, regularity and proximity” test for asbestosis cases had to be viewed differently in the context of a mesothelioma lawsuit. Thus, Mark Buttitta’s “rather brief work history” with asbestos was sufficient to establish medical causation of his mesothelioma 30 years later.

Borg-Warner also lost it’s argument that the $11 million awarded for loss of spousal and parental services was excessive and should have been reduced to just over $1 million-the amount set by the plaintiff’s own expert. While the court agreed that the award in the case “may have been generous,” it found that the amount was based on the “undisputed evidence that Mark was an active and engaged father, and would have been expected to provide significant intangible services to his children, such as guidance, training and counseling.”

Arnold Lakind, the mesothelioma lawyer at New Jersey-based Szaferman, Lakind, Blumstein & Blader who argued the appeal for the plaintiff, says he was unaware of a larger asbestos-related verdict in New Jersey. .

This news story was brought to you by the mesothelioma lawyers at Cooney & Conway. If you’ve been diagnosed with an asbestos-related illness, please contact us at 888-651-1850. Cooney & Conway, 120 N LaSalle Street – Suite 3000 Chicago, IL 60602-2415

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