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Lung cancer lawsuit opens questions about punitive damages

Chemicals make many things in modern life possible, from the running of automobile engines to the preservatives in food at the grocery store. Their manufacture, however, has caused many environmental problems in the United States and medical problems for many of its citizens.

A recent jury verdict affirmed the role of glyphosate, the active ingredient of a leading weed killer, in a case of non-Hodgkin lymphoma, an aggressive type of lung cancer. The plaintiff was awarded $250 million in punitive damages, which a judge later dismissed. Finding the award too high, the judge issued the choice of lower damages or a retrial on the issue.

The legal twist in this case is the role of punitive damages once cause has been established by admission, jury verdict or scientific conclusion. The jury was convinced in its deliberation that the plaintiff's case was accurate in that the manufacturer of the weed killer knew of its dangers and that one of those dangers caused his cancer. Punitive damages are related to a person's or institution's false dealings, not the actual cause of an ailment or injury.

Many jury cases or other legal events when a company or executive is directly held responsible are also valuable to future litigation as a precedent. This is why many companies will go to great lengths to avoid punitive damages.

Victims of chemical companies who believe cancer was caused by their products may have a case for compensatory and punitive damages. An attorney can help review the facts of a case, along with a plaintiff's medical history, and recommend the best path forward.

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