Manufacturer's refusal to produce workers' records leads to sanctions
Case name: R.T. Vanderbilt Co. v. Franklin, No. 2007-CA-002103-MR (Ky. Ct. App. 02/06/09).
The Kentucky Court of Appeals upheld a judgment against a company finding in part that the company willfully withheld workers' compensation records regarding the incidence of lung cancer and mesothelioma claims among its workers.
What it means: A willful failure to produce documents regarding the number of workers' compensation claims made against a company may be seen as bad faith by a court, and the court may impose sanctions.
Summary: A former tile plant employee was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and died. She was exposed to talc and asbestos-containing materials used in the manufacture of the tiles. The talc manufacturer was found to be 70 percent at fault for her condition, and her husband was awarded $4 million for her death. The decedent's husband sought numerous documents from the manufacturer, who operated the talc mine and supplied the materials to the employer to make tiles.
The husband argued that the manufacturer fraudulently concealed that its talc contained asbestos and this knowledge was within its exclusive control. The husband requested the manufacturer's workers' compensation records, which contained information on the number of claims made by workers for lung cancer and mesothelioma.
The court found that the company's repeated unwillingness to produce the records constituted willful noncompliance and constituted prejudice against the husband. It further found the manufacturer's refusal to provide the workers' compensation records impeded the husband's ability to establish a connection between the lung cancer and mesothelioma claims. As a sanction for its disobedience, the court forbade the manufacturer from arguing certain defenses at trial. It also precluded the manufacturer from arguing that its product did not cause any asbestos disease.
The manufacturer finally produced a portion of its workers' compensation records regarding some of the claims made by workers for lung cancer and mesothelioma. The Kentucky Court of Appeals found the husband's document requests were reasonable and necessary to establish a causational link between the manufacturer's talc and asbestos disease, and the decedent's mesothelioma and exposure to the talc.
The Court of Appeals ruled that the manufacturer willfully withheld the workers' compensation records and upheld the jury monetary award.
March 26, 2009
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