Punitive Damage Claims Can Go Forward Against New York City Asbestos Defendants

In the New York City Asbestos Litigation that has been pending for decades, an intermediate New York appellate court determined that the motion judge had the authority to amend the Case Management Order to allow for Plaintiffs to seek punitive damages upon application to their respective trial court, even though the defendants in the case had opposed the amendment.  The previous Case Management Order, set forth in 1996, stated that “Counts for punitive damages are deferred until such time as the Court deems otherwise.”  The defendants argued that the Case Management Order could not be amended without their consent but the appellate court rejected that argument.

The appellate court did take issue with the motion judge’s direction that any plaintiffs wishing to seek punitive damages must do so “at the conclusion of the evidentiary phase of the trial upon notice to the affected defendant(s), to which such defendant(s) shall have an opportunity to respond.”  Specifically, the court concluded this procedure deprived the defendants of due process by leaving it to guesswork as to whether each plaintiff would seek punitive damages until the close of evidence at trial.  The court remanded the issue to the coordinating judge to determine the proper procedural protocols to put in place.

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