Louisiana Supreme Court Reduces $10 Million Award in Mesothelioma Case

Last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court rendered its decision in the case entitled Henry Pete v. Boland Marine and Manufacturing Company, LLC, et al. 2023-C-00170 (La. Oct. 2023).  The decision represents a significant step in reducing excessive jury verdicts in Louisiana.

On November 4, 2020, an Orleans Parish jury returned an $10,351,020.70 verdict in favor of Mr. Henry Pete, a 74-year-old living mesothelioma plaintiff from Texas.  Plaintiff alleged he was diagnosed with mesothelioma as a result of his exposures to asbestos as a longshoreman from 1964 through 1968 at various wharfs and ports. Plaintiff also claimed to have suffered paraoccupational exposure as a result of his father’s work as a longshoreman during that same period of 1964-1968.

The jury awarded Plaintiff $10,351,020.70.  The jury awarded $2 million for past and future physical pain and suffering, $2.3 million for past and future mental pain and suffering, $3 million for past and future physical disability, $2.5 million for past and future loss of enjoyment of life, and $551,020.70 for past medical expenses.

On January 5, 2023, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana affirmed the jury’s award.  Defendant, Ports America, alleged that the jury abused its discretion in awarding an excessive general damages award.  Ports America argued that the award should be in line with various other cases concerning asbestos/mesothelioma claims. The Fourth Circuit observed that “the test is whether the present award is greatly disproportionate to the mass of past awards for truly similar injuries.”  The Court ultimately held:

“Ports America has failed to demonstrate that based on the evidence in this case that the general damages awarded to Henry Pete, relevant to the pain and suffering attributable to [his] ultimate [] inevitable death from mesothelioma shock the conscience.  Thus, we do not find that the jury abused its discretion”

Ports America applied for a writ of certiorari to the Louisiana Supreme Court, which was granted earlier this year.

The BBFV team of Thomas Naquin, John Viator, and David Bienvenu prepared and filed a brief of amici curiae on behalf of the Louisiana Association of Business and Industry, Louisiana Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, the Louisiana Chemical Association, and the Louisiana Legal Reform Coalition. These trade organizations represent thousands of member companies in Louisiana and represent the general interests of the business community and advocate for fair treatment of business in Louisiana’s judicial system.  The brief advocated how unfair and excessive jury awards in tort litigation negatively impact Louisiana’s judicial system and adversely affect capital investment and the business climate in Louisiana in maintaining and growing the state’s economy.  

Last week, the Louisiana Supreme Court rendered its decision, reversing the Fourth Circuit’s decision and reducing the survival action general damages award from $9.8 million to $5 million.  Just as significant, the Louisiana Supreme Court adopted a new standard for determining whether a jury abused its discretion in awarding general damages.

In its ruling, the Court found that “the highest amount that could be reasonably awarded” in the Pete case was $5 million.  Moreover, the Court held that in all future cases, an appellate court must consider relevant prior general damage awards as guidance in determining whether a jury’s award is an abuse of discretion.  Before this decision, an appellate court had to find that a jury abused its discretion before it could consider prior awards to determine what the award should have been.  The Court recognized that there should be some level of objectivity in determining whether a jury has abused its discretion and thus to make that determination, a court is to review prior awards in similar cases.  The new standard adopted by the LASC is a significant improvement and will require an objective, thorough analysis when analyzing the reasonableness of a jury’s award.

A copy of the full opinion can be viewed here.