According to a July 8, 2021 opinion, Washington Supreme Court reinstated an $81.5 million ruling in full after overturning an appellate court ruling for a wrongful death claim of an auto mechanic. According to the Supreme Court ruling, the Court of Appeals “overstepped the limited role played by appellate courts in the civil justice system and substituted its own subjective judgment for that of the jury and trial courts based on nothing more than the size of the verdict.”
The original claim was brought forward by the family and estate of the deceased mechanic who died in 2015 at the age of 67 of peritoneal mesothelioma. In 2017, after an approximately 12-week trial, a jury unanimously found NAPA Auto Parts and Genuine Parts Corp (GPC) liable in the mechanic’s death and awarded the deceased mechanic’s survivors $81.5 million. In its verdict, the jury found that NAPA and GPC were strictly liable and negligent for their defective asbestos-containing products used by the mechanic. Before his diagnosis and death, the deceased had worked with brake pads containing asbestos, and other parts manufactured by GPC and sold through NAPA for decades.
After the jury awarded the $81.5 million to the deceased’s mechanic’s survivors, GPC and NAPA moved for a new trial or alternatively to have the damages awarded lowered, which the trial court denied. The Court of Appeals then vacated the jury’s $81.5 million verdict and reversed the trial court in part. The Court of Appeals concluded that the trial court made a mistake when it excluded one of NAPA and GPC’s expert witnesses and applied what was referred to as “subjective determination.” The Court of Appeals also concluded that the jury’s award was excessive and ordered a new trial on damages.
In the reversal, the Washington Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals made a mistake by failing to give enough deference to the trial court’s decision to exclude the defendants’ expert witness. Further, the Supreme Court found that the trial court’s verdict was supported by “substantial evidence” and that records did not indicate that the jury’s verdict was a product of improper consideration or an unfair process.
According to the Washington Supreme Court, while the appellate review is crucial because it ensures the integrity of the jury process remains safeguarded, it must remain limited. In this case, the Supreme court determined that the Court of Appeals overstepped its limited role. The Supreme Court found that the Court of Appeals inappropriately overruled the trial court and jury. Accordingly, the Washington Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeals and reinstated the jury’s verdict in full.
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