The jury in Phase 2 of the Bankhead v. Allied Packing asbestos trial in Oakland on Thursday awarded $13.5M in punitive damages against two defendants, ArvinMeritor and Pneumo Abex, in addition to the jury’s previous compensatory damage award of approximately $4M in Phase 1 of the trial.
In their Phase 2 closing arguments, the plaintiff and defense attorneys disagreed sharply over whether the defendants were financially healthy companies or whether any good would be accomplished by adding punitive damages to the compensatory damages already awarded.
With respect to Pneumo Abex, plaintiff attorney Joe Satterley suggested that $15M would be an appropriate punitive damages award. Pneumo Abex had transferred all its assets for $207M plus an agreement to cover the liabilities, which was the reason why it was no longer operating. It would be unfair to Mr. Bankhead, said Mr. Satterley, to refrain from punishing them because they had transferred their assets in a “shell game.”
“We’re not trying to kill ArvinMeritor,” said Mr. Satterley. “We’re not trying to do what you determined that they did to him. We’re merely trying to set an example of what not to do, and try to give the corporate executives notice of what happened, so they can really acknowledge that what they did was wrong.”
Mr. Satterley suggested that the jury should award $8M against ArvinMeritor, which would be one-third of their CEO’s severence payment if he were fired. “Corporations and individuals are to be treated equally under the law. But they’re different. Gordon Bankhead, his blood is red. But these corporations, the only way to get to them is through their green blood. Corporations bleed green. Now I wish it weren’t the case, I wish it weren’t the only way to get corporations’ attention sometimes is to take their money. To discourage them, to deter,” to make sure the decision-makers focus on the importance of individual safety.
By a 9-3 vote, the jury awarded $4.5M in punitive damages against ArvinMeritor, and $9M in punitive damages against Pneumo Abex. The jury had previously awarded approximately $4M in compensatory damages, for a total damage award in excess of $17M.