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November 2019: Appellate Victory in New York State Supreme Court

November 2019

Quinn Emanuel recently achieved a substantial victory in the New York State Supreme Court, Appellate Division, First Department, which unanimously reduced a judgment against our client, A.O. Smith Water Products Company, from $29 million to $6 million in an appeal following a 3-week jury trial in the New York City Asbestos Litigation (“NYCAL”).  The estate of a decedent with two young children who contracted mesothelioma in his late 50s had alleged that the decedent’s injuries were caused by exposure to asbestos in A.O. Smith water heaters that he removed from residential homes in Brooklyn in the 1970s and 1980s.  A.O. Smith, represented by another law firm, argued at trial that it did not manufacture any of the products that allegedly caused the decedent’s injuries and that the decedent had failed to prove the elements of its wrongful death claim under New York law.  After a 3-week trial, the jury unanimously found A.O. Smith liable for the decedent’s injuries and awarded the estate $60 million in damages as a result, including $25 million for the decedent’s pain and suffering and $17 and $18 million to each of the decedent’s two children for their pecuniary loss.

            Facing a $60 million verdict and little chance of reversal on appeal, A.O. Smith turned to Quinn Emanuel.  The firm successfully reduced the $60 million verdict to $29 million in post-trial motions before the same judge that presided over trial.  The firm then engaged in a full challenge to the final judgment of $29 million by seeking appeal to the Appellate Division, First Department.   The firm raised several legal challenges to the judgment, including a “misidentification defense” that A.O. Smith was not liable at all because a different company, similarly named “H.B. Smith,” had actually manufactured and sold the injury-causing products.  But the firm spent most of its briefing on the excessive judgment against A.O. Smith, explaining, with charts, why it was grossly out of line with precedent and should be reduced.  The Appellate Division ultimately ruled in A.O. Smith’s favor, concluding that the judgment was excessive and out of line with precedent, and reducing the damages to a total of $6 million—only 10% of the original verdict against our client.