The New York Supreme Court has ruled to reinstate the opportunity for plaintiffs in asbestos litigation in New York City to seek punitive damages against defendants.
New York Supreme Court Justice Sherry Klein Heitler issued the court’s decision on Tuesday, April 8, noting that “victims of asbestos exposure [were] permitted to apply for punitive damages in every New York state court except this one.” Heitler continued by stating, “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.”
As a result of the ruling, all plaintiffs filing asbestos lawsuits in New York City may not seek punitive damages against defendants “in the most serious cases to correct for the most egregious conduct,” according to Heitler. These punitive damages will be in addition to any other personal injury damages or wrongful death damages the plaintiffs seek as compensation for their injuries, expenses, and other pain and suffering.
Following the ruling, opponents of punitive damages, including representatives of the American Tort Reform Association, claimed that punitive damages will deplete funds established for victims, leaving little money for those who develop asbestos illnesses in the future to recover. Supporters of the decision, on the other hand, argued that the threat of punitive damages will encourage companies to settle with those to whom they cause asbestos injuries.
The plaintiffs in the case were represented by the law firm Weitz & Luxenberg, and the defendants were represented by attorneys from Shook, Hardy & Bacon.
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