In a move that further cements Louisiana’s place as the 7th Ranked Judicial Hell Hole of 2023, the Court of Appeals of Louisiana affirmed a second 8-figure verdict of 2023 for a mesothelioma personal injury case in Strauder v. Shell Oil Co., 2023 WL 2009251 (La. App. 4 Cir. 2/15/23). The first affirmation came in Pete v. Boland Marine, 2023 WL 110608 (La. App. 4 Cir. 1/5/23). Included within the $10.4 million total verdict in Strauder was a $2.75 million award to each of Decedent’s two adult children for wrongful death damages.
Decedent, Mr. David Strauder Jr., was a pipefitter from the 1960s to the 1980s. According to the record, he worked at various shipyards and industrial facilities with and around numerous asbestos-containing products and equipment. Mr. Strauder was diagnosed with mesothelioma in early 2015 and passed away several months later. His family sued in 2016 and trial commenced in December, 2021 with Union Carbide Corporation (UCC) as the sole remaining defendant. After the close of evidence, the jury returned a verdict totaling $10.4 million, including $4.85 million in survival damages, $5.5 million in wrongful death damages (equaling $2.75 million for each of Mr. Strauder’s two adult daughters), plus judicial interest relating back to the date the petition was filed in state court. UCC was assessed 20% of the fault and ordered to pay their share of the damages. UCC appealed asserting that the jury erred in awarding $2.75 million in wrongful death damages to each of Decedent’s adult children and that the district court erred in the calculation of judicial interest by relating it back to when the petition was originally filed.
In the Court’s summation, UCC argued that the generalized testimony offered was not sufficient to support such an award for wrongful death damages and that the award was “wholly inconsistent” and “grossly excessive.” The Court, after setting forth the policy and elements for wrongful death damages, noted that juries are given great and even vast discretion in awarding damages for wrongful death.
One of Decedent’s daughters as well as Decedent’s girlfriend of 26 years, offered testimony regarding both of Decedent’s daughters’ relationships with Decedent. According to the record, both daughters spent time with Mr. Strauder almost daily for at least 5 to 6 years, had dinners together, and lived within a few miles of each other. Both daughters took care of Decedent between his diagnosis and death, including taking him to appointments and placing him on hospice. Finally, there was testimony regarding additional loss felt by both daughters related to their father’s absence from weddings and family events, as well as the decline in their respective mental health since their father’s passing. The Court held the evidence was sufficient to support the award of $5.5 million in total wrongful death damages.
In addition, citing to Cole v. Celotex Corp., 599 So. 2d 1058 (La. 1992), the Court affirmed the award of judicial interest relating back to when the petition was first filed in state court. In doing so the entire $10.4 million verdict was affirmed.
This award and Court’s opinion makes clear that adult surviving children, in addition to a surviving spouse, can provide adequate support to obtain a $5.5 million verdict for wrongful death damages, and prevail on appeal. Further, this case highlights the importance of conducting discovery regarding familial relationships and alleged wrongful death damages claims so that defendants can sufficiently evaluate the case prior to trial.