On February 15, 2023, the Louisiana 4th Circuit Court of Appeal affirmed the trial court’s award of $2.75M each to the two surviving children of a deceased mesothelioma plaintiff and also affirmed the trial court’s award of judicial interest relating back to the date the original petition was filed.

In December 2021, after a multi-day trial in Civil District Court in Orleans Parish before Judge Rachael Johnson, the jury awarded sisters Jill and Shelley Stauder each $2.75M in wrongful death damages for the death of their father, David Stauder, Jr. (“Mr. Stauder”).[1] This amount is nearly six times higher than the prior approximate $500,000 average wrongful death awards. The jury found that Mr. Stauder was exposed to asbestos while working as a pipefitter for several employers at various industrial sites between the 1960s and the 1980s, which caused him to develop, and later die from, mesothelioma. At the time of trial, premises owner Union Carbide Corporation (“UCC”) was the only remaining defendant. The jury found seven defendants liable, including UCC, and assigned UCC 20% fault on the wrongful death claim. Further, the trial court awarded plaintiffs judicial interest against UCC from the date the original petition was filed in March 2016 even though UCC was not added to the lawsuit until the 6th amended petition filed in July 2018. UCC appealed.

UCC argued on appeal that the jury erred in awarding the Stauders each $2.75M in wrongful death damages, far exceeding any jurisprudential award to adult children in the 4th Circuit, because only generalized testimony was offered in support of the Stauders’ claim. UCC asserted that such testimony is insufficient to support the jury’s large award. At trial, Jill Stauder testified via video regarding her relationship with her father, while Mr. Stauder’s girlfriend testified as to Shelley Stauder’s relationship with her father due to Shelley being unavailable to appear at trial because of a mental disability.

The Appellate Court found that although generalized testimony was offered about the mutual love the Stauders and their father shared, specific testimony was also offered regarding the unique relationship each daughter had with their father and the impact of his death on each. Accordingly, the Court found that the jury’s reliance on this testimony was not an abuse of its vast discretion and affirmed the $2.75M award to each daughter. The Court distinguished the Stauder testimony from the testimony, or lack thereof, in the Lege[2] case relied on by UCC. In Lege, although the decedent’s four children were present at trial, only two testified and the testimony provided was general in nature.

Regarding judicial interest, UCC maintained that it should only be ordered to pay judicial interest from the date UCC was added to the lawsuit (July 2018), and not the date the original petition was filed two years earlier (March 2016). UCC argued that because the Stauders’ claim against UCC does not arise out of a “single tortious occurrence” with the original defendants named in the original petition, UCC should not have to pay judicial interest dating back to the filing of the original petition. The Court found that UCC failed to provide any supporting jurisprudence for its interpretation of “single tortious occurrence.” Further, the Court found that the Louisiana Supreme Court had previously held that prejudgment interest relates back to the date the plaintiff filed suit against the first solidary defendant. Accordingly, the Court affirmed the trial court’s award of judicial interest from the date the original petition was filed.

[1] The jury additionally awarded $4.85M in survival damages, with UCC’s share being $693K. This award was not appealed.

[2] Lege v. Union Carbide Corporation, 20-252 (La.App. 4 Cir. 04/01/2021), 2021 WL 1227137, as clarified on reh’g, 20-252 (La.App. 4 Cir. 05/12/2021), 2021 WL 1917784.