A Missouri federal court denied a ball bearings manufacturer’s request for a new trial after a jury hit it with $20.6 million in compensatory and punitive damages in a trichloroethylene (“TCE”) exposure case, and the Court denied Defendants’ request for a new trial. Kirk v. Schaeffler Group USA, Inc., No. 3:13-cv-5032 (W.D. Mo. July 13, 2016).
Plaintiff is a 28-year-old woman who grew up near Defendants’ Joplin, MO manufacturing plant. She brought common law claims, alleging childhood exposure to TCE in groundwater, soil, and soil vapor caused her autoimmune hepatitis and other serious ailments. A federal jury awarded $7.6 million in compensatory damages and $13 million in punitives, finding Defendants showed indifference or conscious disregard for the safety of others.
Defendants moved for a new trial, arguing the Court committed a host of errors, and that the jury award was excessive. The Court denied Defendants’ motion. The Court found no error in, among other things, admitting government documents on TCE exposure standards and limiting Defendants’ expert and lay testimony on TCE contamination and exposure. The Court also found the jury’s compensatory damages award was not excessive. Defendants argued $7.6 million for actual damages is more than twice Plaintiff’s damages experts’ worst-case scenario. The Court noted, however, that jury compensatory damages include both economic and non-economic damages. The Court found Plaintiff’s experts demonstrated she suffered $3 million in economic damages, and Plaintiff otherwise offered credible evidence on additional non-economic damages. Therefore the jury’s compensatory award was not excessive.