On August 11, 2016, Defendants Lyondell Chemical Co., Equistar Chemicals LP and Equistar GP, LLC, (collectively “Defendants”) filed a notice of appeal with the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa to contest a $1.76 million judgment entered at the conclusion of a benzene trial initiated by the spouse of a deceased truck driver. Defendants’ decision to appeal this judgment came after the federal court entered a final judgment in the case, throwing out an award of $1.76 million in punitive damages, but allowing the judgement of $1.76 million in actual damages to stand.
In Dahlin, et al. v. Archer-Daniels-Midland Co., et al., No. 14-00085 (S.D. Iowa), Plaintiff, Cheri Dahlin (“Plaintiff”), originally filed suit in Iowa state court on behalf of her deceased husband Dean Dahlin, a commercial truck driver from 1990 to 1995, alleging that in the course of his employment, he handled and transported benzene-containing products from a petrochemical facility located in Clinton, Iowa, to a storage facility in South Clinton, Iowa. Plaintiff alleged that her husband ultimately developed acute myeloid leukemia, as a result of his work as a truck driver. In April 2016, a jury found in favor of the Plaintiff, awarding her $1.76 million in actual damages and $1.76 million in punitive damages.
In their motion for entry of final judgment, Defendants argued that the decedent knew, and had been warned of, benzene-related risks, and that even if they had failed to warn of the risks, Plaintiff had failed to establish that the decedent would have listened to said warning. Defendants further argued that plaintiffs failed to present any evidence establishing that Defendants either willfully or wantonly disregarded the decedent’s safety so as to warrant punitive damages.
Ultimately, the court concluded that there was not substantial evidence to support an award of punitive damages after considering several factors, including, whether the defendants relied on industry standards, whether a “reasonable disagreement exists in the scientific community” regarding the risks of benzene exposure; whether Defendants have knowledge of numerous similar incidents, and whether the conduct was more egregious than that of others in the industry.
Here, even though Defendants were able to successfully argue in their post-trial briefings that Plaintiffs were not entitled to a substantial punitive damages award, they could not avoid a substantial damages award.