A Washington state court recently issued a strong penalty against a defendant in a mesothelioma cancer lawsuit for what the judge determined to be willful withholding of evidence by the defendant and false statements by defense counsel. In determining that the defendant, PACCAR, Inc. willfully violated rules of civil discovery procedure to produce evidence in the asbestos cancer lawsuit, the Pierce County Superior Court ruled that the defendant must pay the plaintiff $150,000, as well as attorneys fees for the time the plaintiff’s lawyers spent litigating the matter over the evidence in question.
The evidence in question in the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit concerned blueprints of trucks manufactured by a subsidiary of PACCAR, Kenworth, which contained information such as what companies supplied brakes, engines, axels, clutches, etc. Additionally, the blueprints, known as “build sheets” would contain information regarding the part’s model number and the totality of the information from the buildsheets would be of value to the plaintiff’s case that he developed mesothelioma from asbestos containing parts manufactured by the defendant and/or its subsidiary, which the victim’s employer purchased and maintained.
In response to the plaintiff’s request for build sheets of Kenworth vehicles, the defendant and its counsel responded by asserting that the build sheets could only be searched if the plaintiff could provide a vehicle information number for the truck make in question, that there were no records of to what entities the Kenworth trucks were ultimately sold, and that the build sheets were kept on microfiche and it would be too burdensome to hand search each build sheet. The court subsequently ordered PACCAR to turn over 10 randomly selected build sheets so that the plaintiffs and the court could have a better understanding of the information contained therein.
Upon examination of the 10 randomly selected build sheets, it was revealed that there was information contained showing which entity ultimately purchased each vehicle, and that one of the build sheets actually showed it was sold to the plaintiff’s employer. As a result, the court ordered that PACCAR turn over to the plaintiff all build sheets of vehicles manufactured from 1970 to 1990 so that a third party could digitally copy the build sheets. In another twist, the defendant’s counsel revealed to the court that PACCAR did in fact have a digital, searchable database of the buildsheets, which dated back to at least 2001.
In finding that the defendant’s responses to the requests for discovery were false, misleading, and evasive, the judge hearing the case ordered the substantial monetary penalties as a punishment and deterrent of other parties taking similar actions in other cases. The court set a hearing to determine whether to revoke defense counsel’s privilege to represent PACCAR in a Washington state court of law without a license from the state.
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