The Louisiana Supreme Court has slashed damage awards to members of a class exposed to a chemical leak from a plant, ruling that the awards were too high for the plaintiffs’ injuries. Howard v. Union Carbide Corp., No. 09-2750 (La. 10/19/10). In September 1998, a chemical leak at defendant’s Taft, Louisiana, plant caused 4.6 million pounds of naphtha to vaporize and disperse into the surrounding area. According to court records, plaintiffs were area residents who experienced watering eyes, nose and throat irritation, coughing, and headaches purportedly as a result of their exposure to the naphtha. After trial, the court awarded each member of the class damages ranging from $1,500 to $3,500 based on each plaintiff’s distance from the leak. The court of appeals upheld the awards, and defendant appealed.
The state supreme court reduced the awards to a range from $100 to $500, ruling that the damage awards must bear a reasonable relationship to the elements of the proven damages. According to the court, “. . ., the damages proven, such as eye, nose, and throat irritations, are not unlike the symptoms suffered by persons afflicted with common seasonal allergies.” A dissenting justice found “no manifest error” in the lower court decision and would have affirmed.