Court of Appeal of Louisiana, Fourth Circuit, May 8, 2019

LOUISIANA — The plaintiff Jerry Craft (plaintiff) filed suit against multiple stevedore companies, alleging that his work as a longshoreman on the New Orleans riverfront from 1953 until 1989 exposed him to asbestos that caused him to develop mesothelioma. Multiple other stevedore companies for which the plaintiff worked settled out of court, were dismissed from the litigation, or did not appear in the litigation at all. The defendant Ports America Gulfport, Inc. (defendant) pursued litigation, and went to trial.

The jury was given a special verdict form, which was comprised of eight interrogatories related to defendant’s liability. The jury found, by a preponderance of the evidence, that the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos while employed by the defendant, that this exposure was a substantial contributing factor to the plaintiff’s development of mesothelioma, and that the defendant was negligent by not providing safeguards against such exposure during the plaintiff’s employment. The jury awarded the plaintiff the following: $1,000,000 for past and future pain and suffering, $250,000 for past and future medical pain and suffering, $250,000 for past and future physical disability, $100,000 for past and future loss of enjoyment of life, $360,000 for past medical expenses, and $1,000,000 for future medical expenses.

The defendant filed two JNOV motions: the trial court denied their motion as to the jury’s negligence finding, but granted as to the jury’s award for future medical expenses in the amount of $1,000,000. Both parties appealed the respective rulings.

The appeals court held that the jury did not abuse its discretion in “only” granting the plaintiff 1.6 million dollar and that in Louisiana, “it is a well-established rule that before a court of appeals can disturb an award made by a [fact finder], the record must clearly reveal that the trier of fact abused its discretion in making its award.”

In addressing the defendant’s JNOV claim related to future medical expenses, the court stated that “Mr. Craft proved, by a preponderance of the evidence, that future medical expenses would be medically necessary.” Multiple medical experts testified that the plaintiff would require continuous medical care for the remainder of his life, including chemotherapy. The appeals court reversed the trial court’s decision, and reinstated the jury verdict of $1,000,000 for future medical expenses.

The court, in reviewing the totality of the evidence presented at trial, disagreed with the defendant’s assertion that plaintiff provided insufficient evidence to establish that a legal duty was owed to him. Therefore, the court found no manifest error and denied defendant’s JNOV motion.

The case summary is provided with permission of Westlaw here.