On April 25, 2019, as previously reported by the Asbestos Case Tracker, the Supreme Court of Erie County rendered a plaintiffs’ verdict, finding that decedent James Stock was exposed to asbestos by products made by the valve manufacturer, the defendant failed to exercise reasonable care by not providing warnings about the hazards of exposure to asbestos from its products, and that its failure to warn was a substantial contributing factor in causing the decedent’s injuries. The verdict was appealed by the defendant and cross-appealed by the plaintiff, asking to set aside various aspects of the jury verdict. Notably, the decedent passed away during the pendency of the appeal, and his wife was substituted as executrix of his estate.
The court rejected the valve defendant’s contention that the evidence was legally insufficient to establish that asbestos in its product was a substantial contributing factor in causing or contributing to the decedent’s injuries. The court held that there is a valid line of reasoning and permissible inferences that could lead rational persons to the conclusion reached by the jury. Notably, the court held that in order to prove specific causation, “it is not always necessary for a plaintiff to quantify exposure levels precisely or use the dose-response relationship,” but instead there must be evidence from which the factfinder can conclude that the injured party was exposed to levels of asbestos known to cause the kind of harm suffered by the decedent.
In the present case, the decedent testified that while performing work on component parts associated with the defendant’s valves, gaskets, and packing, he was exposed to visible asbestos dust on a routine basis. Furthermore, the plaintiff’s expert opined that such visible dust was a substantial contributing factor to the development of decedent’s mesothelioma. Contrary to the defendant’s contention, the court held that the expert opinion was sufficient to establish specific causation.
The court also denied the plaintiff’s cross-appeal, which argued that the court erred in failing to list her loss of decedent’s future household services as a separate itemized question on the verdict sheet. The verdict sheet provided a line item for future “loss of decedent’s services and society,” which the court properly charged the jury regarding that item of damages and was not required to distinguish between loss of services and loss of society as two separate items of damages.