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Kirk v. Schaeffler Group USA, Inc.

ELR Citation: 48 ELR 20063
Nos. 16-3417, (8th Cir., 04/05/2018)

The Eighth Circuit held that a lower court must hold a new trial with respect to a family's claims for punitive damages against a former manufacturing company for tricholorethylene contamination that allegedly caused their daughter to develop autoimmune hepatitis. The contamination occurred between 1973 and 1982. The family filed suit against the company that owned the site at the time of the contamination as well as against the successor company that acquired the facility in 2005. After a lengthy trial, a jury awarded the family $7,600,000 in compensatory damages and $13,000,000 in punitive damages. On appeal, the successor company argued that the lower court erred in ruling that its pleadings in other actions judicially estopped the successor company from denying that it is liable as a successor. The appellate court agreed, finding that the family failed to establish successor liability and that the lower court should have dismissed the family's claims against the successor. Accordingly, the court ordered a partial new trial on punitive damages because the punitive damage award did not distinguish how much each defendant owed, and because the family based their claims for punitive damages, at least in part, on alleged misconduct by the successor company.