Critics are calling for tort reform after a jury in Manhattan awarded $60 million to the family of a construction worker who died from exposure to asbestos.
Pietro Macaluso was exposed to asbestos while doing demolition work on single-family homes in Brooklyn in the 1970s and 1980s. The work required him to rip out boilers, which were covered in cancer-causing asbestos. The units he removed were manufactured by Peerless, A.O. Smith Corp and Burnham Commercial.
Macaluso sued all three companies before his death in July 2016 at 56 years of age.
The jury award will be split between Macaluso’s twin daughters and his girlfriend.
During the nine-week trial, Daniel Blouin, the family’s attorney, argued that the companies knew of the health risks associated with asbestos, but did not warn the public.
Macaluso was diagnosed with mesothelioma in July 2015.
Blouin says he believes the jury was swayed by the video of Macaluso on his death bed and his request for emotional pain and suffering. The jury watched Macaluso say good-bye to his children.
The jury found the boiler companies to be reckless and negligent in causing Macaluso’s death.
But the jury award was eight times the national average. Critics say the verdict highlights the need for tort reform. The city’s asbestos-litigation division is known as NYCAL, and it is one of the most plaintiff-friendly in the United States.
Tom Stebbins, who is the executive director at Lawsuit Reform Alliance of New York, is urging lawmakers to pass pending bills that would ban punitive damages, require the disclosure of trust claims and impose other changes in trial rules.
Stebbins says the latest verdict “illustrates the need for court officials and lawmakers to re-evaluate how New York deals with asbestos lawsuits.”
Macaluso’s case had the highest award in New York City since January 2017, when a case ended in a $70 million verdict.