Union Carbide Ducks Punitive Damages After New Jersey Jury Delivers $2.38M Asbestos Verdict

Posted by David Siegel on Jan 22, 2019 3:48:49 PM

Fowler closings

CVN screenshot of plaintiff attorney Amber Long, left, and Union Carbide attorney Scott Masterson, right, delivering their closing arguments. Click here for video of the trial.  

New Brunswick, NJ - A New Jersey state court jury awarded $2.38 million in compensatory damages on Tuesday to the widow of a factory worker supposedly exposed to Union Carbide’s asbestos products, but later declined to saddle the Dow Chemical subsidiary with any punitive damages. 

The Middlesex County jury determined Union Carbide is responsible for the 2011 death of Thomasina Fowler’s husband, Willis Edenfield. Edenfield died of pleural mesothelioma that his wife alleged was the result of years of exposure to asbestos at his workplace, an industrial site managed by the now defunct National Starch.

Opening statements in the first phase of the trial took place on December 3. The punitive damages phase began on Wednesday, with jurors returning their determination of zero additional damages on Thursday afternoon. 

The full trial was webcast and recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network.

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Union Carbide spokesman Tomm Sprick told CVN the company believes it has strong grounds for an appeal.

"Union Carbide strongly disagrees with the jury’s compensatory verdict, but the jury correctly concluded that Union Carbide’s actions did not justify an award of punitive damages," Sprick said in an email. "There was no credible evidence that Mr. Edenfield was exposed to Union Carbide’s asbestos, that it caused Mr. Edenfield’s mesothelioma or that Union Carbide failed to provide adequate warnings when selling asbestos, a legal product at the time." 

Fowler's attorney did not respond to a request for comment. 

Union Carbide, represented by defense powerhouse Lewis Brisbois Bisgaard & Smith LLP, argued that there is no evidence proving Edenfield was exposed to asbestos products purchased from the company, maintaining that the only witness to testify about Fowler’s work with asbestos stated he saw him using another brand.

Fowler’s attorney, Amber Long of Levy Konigsberg LLP, overcame a significant hurdle in securing a jury verdict despite Edenfield passing away before giving a deposition. She instead told jurors she would rely on circumstantial evidence and documentary evidence like invoices to prove Union Carbide’s asbestos was present at the National Starch worksite, along with testimony from two of Edenfield’s former co-workers.

A New Jersey appeals court revived the long-running case after Judge Ana Viscomi, who presides over New Jersey’s consolidated asbestos docket, granted Union Carbide’s motion for summary judgment in 2015 based largely on the fact that none of Edenfield’s co-workers could specifically recall seeing him use Union Carbide’s asbestos products.

“While UCC presented evidence other companies provided asbestos during this period and no witness could unequivocally link UCC's asbestos to decedent, plaintiff presented evidence UCC provided over 40,000 pounds of asbestos to the facility over a twelve-year period while the decedent worked handling asbestos,” the appeals court wrote in their opinion reversing Viscomi’s decision.

The case is captioned Thomasina Fowler, individually and as administrator and administrator ad prosequendum of the estate of Willis Edenfield v. Akzo Nobel Chemicals Inc., et al., case number L-4820-11 in Middlesex County Superior Court.

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Topics: Products Liability