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Court Affirms Judgment on Multiple Grounds, But Remands Case for Redetermination of a Post-Verdict Settlement Court of Appeal of California, First Appellate District, Division Four, August 20, 2015)

In this case, the plaintiff, Jonathan Hellam, alleged asbestos exposure while working at his grandfather’s boiler business, Monterey Boiler Service (MBS), in the 1960s. By the time of trial, Crane Co. was the only remaining defendant. In November 2012, a jury returned a verdict for $937,882.56 in economic damages and $4.5 million in noneconomic damages. The jury allocated fault as follows: 75 percent to MBS; 13 percent to Western Plumbing Supply; 7 percent to Crane; 2 percent to Central Supply; .5 percent to Bendix; 0 percent to Hellman and General Motors; and 2.5 percent to “all others.”  The judgment entered by the court against Crane was for the full amount of economic damages and for $315,000 of the noneconomic damages, which was Crane’s 7 percent proportionate liability of the total award of $4.5 million. The court affirmed the judgment in a prior decision. Crane appealed, arguing that the trial court “improperly (1) accepted the settling parties’ 50/50 allocation of the settlement proceeds between the personal-injury claims in this suit and future wrongful-death claims; (2) calculated the setoff for preverdict settlements; (3) denied Crane’s request to review unredacted versions of the settlement agreements; (4) treated a settlement with Rheem Manufacturing Company (Rheem) as a preverdict instead of postverdict settlement; and (5) refused to apply a setoff for possible recoveries from asbestos bankruptcy trusts.”
 
In a lengthy decision, the court affirmed the judgment on all but one of the grounds: It agreed with Crane that the settlement with Rheem was a postverdict settlement and remanded the case for recalculation. It stated: “We conclude that a remand is necessary for the trial court to recalculate under a correct application of the Torres approach the amount of the setoff attributable to the Rheem settlement. In doing so, we note that not all the variables affecting the calculation have been determined. Although it appears from Hellam’s filings below that the Rheem settlement amount was $20,000, Rheem’s liability for noneconomic damages is unclear. In particular, the parties have not litigated how the individual liability of the defendants in the ‘All Others’ group should be determined, and the trial court should consider this issue in the first instance.”

Read the full decision here.

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