Horvitz & Levy LLP successfully challenged a punitive damages award in this asbestos-injury lawsuit. The plaintiffs were the heirs of William Saller, who was occupationally exposed to a variety of asbestos-containing products, leading to the development of mesothelioma. His heirs sued numerous defendants who were allegedly responsible for exposing Mr. Saller to asbestos. One of these defendants was Crown Cork & Seal Company, a bottle cap manufacturer that never made any asbestos-containing products. The plaintiffs sued Crown Cork because, decades ago, it acquired a rival bottle cap manufacturer that had once made asbestos-containing insulation, which Saller said he saw others using at one of his worksites. A jury awarded $1.5 million in compensatory damages and $3.6 million in punitive damages against Crown Cork.
Crown Cork retained Horvitz & Levy to appeal from the judgment. The California Court of Appeal (Second Appellate District, Division One) reversed the punitive damages award in a published opinion. The court held that the plaintiffs were not entitled to punitive damages because they failed to meet their burden of presenting evidence of Crown Cork’s financial condition. The plaintiffs had introduced evidence of the financial condition of Crown Cork’s parent company, Crown Holdings, but presented no evidence whatsoever regarding the ability of Crown Cork to punitive a punitive damages award. The Court of Appeal rejected plaintiff’s arguments that (1) the punitive damages could be affirmed because they were small in comparison to Crown Holdings’ estimate of its potential asbestos liabilities, and (2) Crown had somehow forfeited the right to object to plaintiff’s failure to present proper financial condition evidence. The court reversed the judgment with directions to the trial court to vacate the punitive damages award in its entirety, without affording the plaintiffs a new trial on that issue.