Benzene Plaintiffs who were awarded $3.52 million by an Iowa federal court jury have filed their brief in the appeal of the verdict, maintaining that the court erred when it vacated the jury’s punitive damage award.
Plaintiff Cheri Dahlin originally filed suit in Iowa state court on behalf of her deceased husband Dean Dahlin, who was employed as a commercial truck driver for Dahlien Transport Inc. from 1990 to 1992 and for A&R Logistics Inc. from approximately 1992 to 1995. During the course of his employment, Dahlin loaded, transported and unloaded benzene-containing products from a petro-chemical facility located in Clinton, Iowa, to a municipal dock storage facility in South Clinton, Iowa. It was contended that as a direct result of the exposure, Dahlin developed myelodysplastic syndrome, which eventually developed into acute myeloid leukemia.
A jury found for the Plaintiffs, awarding $3.52 million, consisting of $1.76 million actual damages and $1.76 million as punitive damages. The federal court eventually vacated the entire award of punitive damages. However, the full amount of the actual damages was allowed to stand. In reaching the decision, the court opined that two questions on the verdict sheet that the Defendants argued resulted in conflicting answers did in fact cover different grounds and deserved different answers.
In their brief filed in the 8th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals, the Plaintiffs argued that exemplary damages in Iowa are not awarded as a matter of right and, rather, that the decision to award them rests in the factfinder. The brief stated:
The evidence throughout the trial consistently demonstrated Lyondell decision making and wrongful conduct, and the jury decided such conduct was committed with a willful and reckless disregard for the safety of DAC tanker truck drivers, including [plaintiff] Dean Dahlin. …Lyondell knew benzene was a carcinogen, knew it presented a hazard at the premises in question, knew how to protect tanker drivers like Dean Dahlin, yet proceeded with conscious indifference as to his health and safety while failing to provide any safety measures that would eliminate this risk. This case meets the standard for punitive damages under Iowa Code 668.1(1)(a) …
The Plaintiffs were represented at trial by Keith E. Patton and David J. Baluk of Shrader & Associates in Houston; and Robert Gallagher Jr. and Peter Gierut of Gallagher Millage & Gallagher in Bettendorf, Iowa.
John Tomlinson, a lawyer in our Toxic Torts Section, is investigating benzene exposure cases and has filed a number of benzene cases. If you need more information on this subject contact John at 800-898-2034 or by email at John.Tomlinson@beasleyallen.com.
Source: Harris Martin’s Jan 2017
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