Judge John A. Parkins, Jr. recently upheld a $2.8 million verdict awarded to the estate of a deceased 62 year old man in a mesothelioma case . The Simmons firm represented Plaintiffs in this case against R.T. Vanderbilt (“Vanderbilt”). Plaintiffs argued that Vanderbilt’s NYTAL industrial talc (pdf download) contained asbestiform materials and caused Mr. Galliher’s mesothelioma. Vanderbilt argued that those asbestiform fibers could not cause mesothelioma. At trial, Vanderbilt moved for a mistrial based on inadmissible testimony presented to the jury and judgment as a matter of law. Judge Parkins denied the motion for a mistrial and reserved ruling on the motion for judgment as a matter of law. Vanderbilt renewed its motions after trial and recently the Court denied both motions (pdf download).
Motion for New Trial:
Vanderbilt moved for a new trial based on the following evidence presented to the jury which it claimed was improper:
Judge Parkins analyzed each of Vanderbilt’s arguments and determined they did not warrant a new trial. Considering each claim individually, he found:
Given the high standard for a new trial, the Court is unlikely to grant one unless the errors are egregious. The Court will make every effort to cure prejudice during trial through curative instructions as it did here. Finally, the Court appears to suggest that given the complexity of asbestos trials, the last minute nature of many evidentiary rulings inherent in these trials, and the time constraints of this trial (counsel had limited time to present the case), defendants should consider sending two trial counsel or rely more heavily on local counsel to assist with daily trial preparation.
Motion for Judgment as a Matter of Law:
Vanderbilt offered the following reasons the Court should grant judgment as a matter of law in its favor:
Judge Parkins determined that the jury relied on reasonable record evidence to support its findings. Plaintiffs offered several experts in support of their argument that asbestiform fibers in the talc caused Mr. Galliher’s mesothelioma and the jury relied on that testimony. They also offered evidence that Mr. Galliher worked with the talc and that it contained a warning that said non-asbestiform. Accordingly, the verdict was grounded in the evidence and Judge Parkins would not overturn the jury’s decision.
The Delaware standard for judgment as a matter of law after the jury returns a verdict is highly deferential to the jury. Here, the pivotal issue was whether fibers in the talc could cause mesothelioma. The best way to challenge scientific testimony in Delaware is through a Daubert challenge. If a party’s witnesses and cross-examination of the other party’s witnesses is insufficient to convince a jury the science is inadequate, the Court is unlikely to overturn their finding. Moreover, convincing a jury that a product cannot cause mesothelioma is a difficult proposition, when you cannot point the finger at another party as was the case here.
* Disclosure: Bill Larson served as Judge Parkins’ law clerk during the Galliher trial, but had no involvement in this decision.