A Mississippi judge has vacated a $322 million lawsuit verdict that had been hailed as the largest asbestos award for a single Plaintiff in U.S. history. Defense lawyers had asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to remove the presiding judge in the case because he allegedly neglected to disclose that his parents had been involved in similar asbestos litigation against one of the very same companies. A specially appointed judge, William Coleman, issued the order vacating the verdict and award.
The case from Smith County, Miss., involved a lawsuit filed by Thomas Brown, who claimed he had inhaled asbestos dust while mixing drilling mud sold and manufactured by Chevron Phillips Chemical Co. and Union Carbide Corp. The Plaintiff, who was 48 at the time of the award in May, said he was diagnosed with asbestosis and required to take oxygen 24-hours a day. The jury awarded Brown $22 million in compensatory damages and $300 million in punitive damages. It was the biggest asbestos award ever to a single Plaintiff.
Union Carbide first asked Circuit Judge Eddie Bowen to vacate the verdict not long after the record award was handed down. The company also asked Judge Bowen to step down from the case. When the judge didn’t respond, Union Carbide asked the Mississippi Supreme Court to remove him. Union Carbide claimed Judge Bowen was a practicing attorney when his father and mother sued Union Carbide, seeking $1 million for emotional distress. The company said that after the trial, it “learned that Judge Bowen’s father had filed two asbestos lawsuits, one of which remains pending; and that both Judge Bowen’s father and mother had settled asbestos claims with UCC and other Defendants based on a diagnosis of asbestosis – which is the same disease claimed in this case.”
Union Carbide claimed in its motion that Judge Bowen’s bias and prejudice against Union Carbide and Chevron Phillips were clear from his rulings, comments in front of the jury, and his coaching of the Plaintiff’s lawyers in questioning witnesses. The Mississippi Supreme Court granted Union Carbide’s request to remove Judge Bowen in October. Judge Coleman, who was appointed to take over, said in his order that he was vacating “the judgment, the underlying jury verdict, and all rulings and orders of the former trial judge.” A retrial has been set for April, but the venue for the trial has not been determined.
Source: Insurance Journal
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