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March 28, 2006

Court of Appeal Reverses Kaiser Judgment

Today the Louisiana Court of Appeal, Fifth Circuit, reversed an $88.75 million judgment in favor of Kaiser Aluminum & Chemical Co., its reinsurers, and one of its injured employees against electrical-products manufacturer Thomas & Betts Corp. In re: Gramercy Plant Explosion at Kaiser, 04-1151 through 04-1191 (La. App. 5 Cir. 3/28/06).

The case arose from a tremendous explosion at the Kaiser plant in Gramercy, Louisiana on July 5, 1999, which destroyed a large section of the plant’s alumina-processing section. The explosion spawned scores of lawsuits, including suits by Kaiser, its reinsurers, and two dozen injured employees against various defendants, including T&B. Kaiser alleged that the explosion was caused by a power failure preceding the explosion, and that the power failure was caused in part by the failure of a T&B product.

The numerous lawsuits were consolidated in St. James Parish, Louisiana. By the beginning of trial in the fall of 2001, most of the claims had been settled. The jury trial consumed six weeks, and by its end, the only remaining claims were those of Kaiser, its reinsurers, and one Kaiser employee against T&B and another manufacturer. The jury returned a defense verdict, finding both remaining defendants free of fault. But the trial court granted plaintiffs’ motion for judgment notwithstanding the verdict (JNOV) against T&B, assigning 25% fault to T&B, and fixing damages at $335 million for Kaiser and its reinsurers and $20 million for the injured employee, thus making T&B liable for $88.75 million in damages. Additionally, the trial court granted the plaintiffs a conditional new trial, to be held if the JNOV were reversed on appeal. The Court of Appeal’s judgment reversed both the JNOV and conditional new trial and reinstated the jury’s verdict in T&B’s favor.

It is expected that Kaiser and the other plaintiffs will either seek rehearing in the Court of Appeal or seek further appellate review by the Supreme Court of Louisiana.

Posted by RPW at March 28, 2006 05:44 PM
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