When multiple people are injured in the same incident, you might expect they are all eligible to recover the same type of damages, even if the precise dollar amount varies. This case indicates how the categories of damages awarded can vary by plaintiff, depending on the testimony and other evidence presented at trial.
Fourteen workers at the Citgo Petroleum Corporation refinery in Lake Charles, Louisiana, were exposed to hydrogen sulfide and sulfur dioxide following a gas release. The workers suffered various symptoms, including nasal irritation, headaches, and chest pain. The workers filed a lawsuit against Citgo, arguing their symptoms resulted from the gas release. The trial court awarded nine of the fourteen plaintiffs damages for fear of future injury. All fourteen plaintiffs received damages for mental anguish/loss of enjoyment of life. Citgo appealed.
On appeal, Citgo argued the trial court erred in awarding nine plaintiffs damages for fear of future injury because there was no evidence that the gas release could cause them future health problems. To recover for fear of future injury, a plaintiff must show a possibility of such damages from the tortious conduct. See Broussard v. Olin Corp. At trial, even the plaintiff’s expert witness did not testify that the plaintiffs were at risk for future health problems from the gas release. Additionally, there were studies presented indicating there were no known future health issues from similar exposures. Therefore, the appellate court found the trial court’s award of damages for future injuries was “mere speculation” and reversed the trial court’s award of damages for fear of future injuries to the nine plaintiffs.
On appeal, Citgo also argued the trial court erred in awarding mental anguish and loss of enjoyment of life damages to ten plaintiffs who did not provide applicable testimony related to these claims. Mental anguish damages broadly cover pain, discomfort, and inconvenience from the injury and are an element of general damages. See McGee v. A.C. and S, Inc. Loss of enjoyment of life is a separate element of general damages.
In reviewing the record, the appeals court determined four plaintiffs did not provide any testimony that they had suffered mental anguish or loss of enjoyment. Therefore, the appellate court reversed the trial court’s award of mental anguish/loss of enjoyment of life. While Citgo agreed the six other plaintiffs raised concerns regarding their health, it argued the fear of future injury damages covered the mental anguish/loss of enjoyment of life damages. The appellate court disagreed. First, the appellate court had already dismissed the fear of future injury damages. Additionally, the six plaintiffs had testified concerning mental anguish or emotional trauma. Therefore, the trial court appropriately awarded those six plaintiffs mental anguish/loss of enjoyment of life damages.
Here, different plaintiffs had different results on appeal based on the evidence each presented at trial. This shows the importance of consulting with a good attorney, who can advise you on the best evidence to present in support of your claim and multiple different types of available damages.
Additional Sources: Antonio Fontenot, et al. v. Citgo Petroleum Corp., et al.
Article Written By Berniard Law Firm
Additional Berniard Law Firm Article on Mental Distress Claims: Court Turns Away Plaintiffs’ Mental Distress Claims After Chemical Release in St. Gabriel