NYC Reinstates Punitive Damages in Asbestos Lawsuits

This Tuesday, Justice Sherry Klein Heitler of the New York Supreme Court brought back the option for plaintiffs to sue for punitive damages in New York City asbestos lawsuits after a motion was made to be remove previous deferral requirements under the NYCAL Case Management Order (CMO).

Part of Heitler’s decision stems from the fact most every other state court in New York allows plaintiffs to seek punitive damages:

“What I cannot ignore is the fact that victims of asbestos exposure are permitted to apply for punitive damages in every New York state court except this one. I for one cannot justify a situation in which an asbestos plaintiff is permitted to apply for punitive damages in Buffalo but not this court. This raises serious constitutional equal protection concerns which should not be overlooked,” Heitler wrote.

Those who oppose Heitler’s punitive damages reinstatement claim that resources for future cases will be depleted. However, even though she said both sides were presented well during a recent discussion regarding the matter, Heitler proceeded to allow punitive damages to be reinstated on a case-by-case-basis. Heitler made sure to point out though, that she expects plaintiffs to act ethically when pursuing punitive damages.

“While plaintiffs have evinced their intention not to abuse this opportunity, it is appropriate for the court to caution the plaintiffs’ bar not to overstep this permission by attempting to seek punitive damages indiscriminately. Punitive damages should only be sought in the most serious cases to correct for the most egregious conduct, and must present a valid reference to corrective action,” Heitler wrote.

In asbestos lawsuits, punitive damages are a way to “punish” liable parties for wrongful behavior and for actions considered extremely reckless in nature. For example, if a an asbestos manufacturer has had several complaints regarding people becoming ill after exposure to their products, yet they still continue to supply the same asbestos-containing materials (ACMs), this type of behavior may be considered excessively reckless. Although punitive damages are awarded by compensation, it’s important to note that these types of damages are not the same as compensatory damages. Whereas punitive damages allow victims to be compensated for the reckless actions of others, compensatory damages covers compensation for lost wages, medical bills, property damage, pain, suffering, funeral expenses (if applicable), disability, and disfigurement.

If you or a loved one have been injured by asbestos, it’s important to remember that you have legal options and rights, and you may be entitled to both punitive and compensatory damages. Since punitive damages are state-specific, it’s important to retain the services of an experienced mesothelioma lawyer in order to fully understand what you may be entitled to. To get started, contact our leading mesothelioma law firm today for a free, no-obligation legal consultation.

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