Oral arg. – COA – May 4, 2016

At 10:30 the COA will hear MS Valley Silica v. Dorothy Barnett – a silica case.

Howard Barnett worked as  a saw operator and crane operator at Mississippi Steel and Iron Company from 1960-1970.  He claimed he  was occupationally overexposed to respirable silica from sandblasting activities that took place nearby and that he developed silicosis.

A Hinds County jury heard the case against Mississippi Valley on a theory of failure to warn. The jury awarded economic damages of  $165,615.73, noneconomic damages of  $1,034,384.27, and loss of consortium damages of  $500,000.  However, the jury awarded nothing for the wrongful death claims.  They  found Mississippi Valley 35% at fault, Southern Silica 35% at fault, and Mississippi Steel and Iron 30% at fault. They then awarded  punitive damages against Mississippi Valley in the amount of  $500,000.  In its final judgment, the trial court apportioned 35% of each element of compensatory damages to Mississippi Valley, without first capping the total noneconomic damages at $1,000,000. It thus held Mississippi Valley liable for $595,000 in compensatory damages, plus an additional $500,000 punitive damages award, for a total judgment of $1,095,000.

Here’s the list of issues as per Miss. Valley.

 Did the trial court err by failing to grant judgment as a matter of law in Mississippi Valley’s favor, where the jury failed to find Barnett died from a silica-related disease and no estate was substituted to recoup survival damages?

Did the trial court err by failing to grant summary judgment and/or judgment as a matter of law in Mississippi Valley’s favor, where Barnett failed to bring his lawsuit within three years of when he discovered or should have discovered that he had a silica-related disease?

Did the trial court err in instructing the jury on a manufacturer’s duty to warn?

Was the evidence legally sufficient to support a verdict, where a. Barnett failed to prove that he was exposed to Mississippi Valley’s sand or that such exposure caused his injuries; and b. even if Barnett proved sufficient exposure, he failed to prove that Mississippi Valley breached any duty to warn that it may have owed to a bystander to sandblasting activities?

Did the trial court err in allowing punitive damages to go to the jury, in allowing a punitive damage award that was against the overwhelming weight of the evidence and in awarding attorney’s fees without any findings on the record? VI. Did the trial court err in denying remittitur, where capping noneconomic damages at $1,000,000 pursuant to statute and applying the statutorily mandated punitive damages cap was warranted?


Mississippi Valley’s brief

Dorothy Barnett’s brief

Mississippi Valley’s reply brief

Watch the argument here

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