When Paula Knecht’s husband Larry died of malignant mesothelioma at the age of 71, she was understandably heartbroken. The two had been together for 52 years and his death had been particularly painful and traumatic. When the widow’s wrongful death lawsuit against Ford Motor Company resulted in her being awarded over $40 million in compensatory damages and an additional $1 million in punitive damages, the verdict felt appropriate. But Ford did not agree, and filed an appeal asking whether the verdict was “inconsistent” and “shocked the conscience.” Upon reviewing the case, the Superior Court of Delaware decided that neither was true, and left the verdict intact.
16 Days of Testimony Made Liability and Depth of Loss Clear
The mesothelioma lawsuit against Ford and other defendants made painfully clear both the role that Ford played in exposing Mr. Knecht to asbestos and the depth of his family’s loss. Mr. Knecht had been an automobile mechanic who owned and operated his own automotive shop. His family blamed asbestos-contaminated brakes and clutches for his illness.
The jury also heard details of how painful Mr. Knecht’s mesothelioma had been, and how Mrs. Knecht suffered during both his illness and after he died. After 16 days of testimony the jury awarded Mrs. Knecht $40.625 million in compensatory damages and assigned 20% of the responsibility to Ford. Ford’s appeal argued against the generosity of the verdict and asked the Superior Court to examine whether legal argument had inflamed jury passions to the point that the award was unreasonable.
Court Finds Jury Was Careful in Its Considerations
Citing Delaware law as well as the emotional testimony provided by Mrs. Knecht about her loss, the court determined that the award was “not so grossly excessive so as to shock the Court’s sense of justice” and that there was no reason to believe that the jury had been anything but careful in reviewing the facts, applying the law and awarding damages.
In their closing remarks, the judges wrote, “The jury did not disregard the evidence in assessing compensatory damages, but rather considered the evidence of the unendurable pain and suffering Mr. Knecht sustained, the considerable value of his life to his loved ones, especially Mrs. Knecht, and the terrible emotional distress suffered by Mrs. Knecht.