Circumstantial Evidence Held Sufficient to Uphold Verdict Against Insulator Defendant Court of Appeals of Maryland, July 3, 2019
MARYLAND — A Baltimore City jury found that William Busch, Jr. contracted mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos-containing materials installed during the construction of Loch Raven High School (LRHS) by defendant Wallace & Gale, Co. (W&G), and awarded the plaintiff a $14 million verdict, which was later reduced to $7.3 million.
While working for Honeywell in the early 1970s, Busch worked in the boiler room at LRHS for three-to-four months in the presence of insulators, who were covering two large boilers with magnesia block insulation that contained 15 percent asbestos. Although Busch wore a respirator, there was testimony that the insulators’ work created “snow storms” of dust, which he and others inhaled.
W&G admitted that they performed insulation work at LRHS, and timesheets and invoices documenting extensive time spent at the site were admitted into evidence. However, W&G argued that no evidence directly connected them with the boiler insulation work that occurred in the presence of Busch. In fact, two witnesses testified that the boiler insulation was performed by another contractor, dismissed defendant, McCormick Asbestos Company.
W&G contended that the plaintiff did not present evidence to prove directly, or by reasonable inference, that Busch was exposed to asbestos-containing products manufactured, sold, or installed by W&G, and that its potential liability was improperly submitted to the jury. To further arguments that others were responsible for the boiler insulation work, W&G submitted into evidence earlier complaints demonstrating that the plaintiff had sued McCormick. In response, the trial court permitted the plaintiff to inform the jury that McCormick had been dismissed.
The appeals court determined that “(c)ircumstantial evidence was presented such that a reasonable factfinder could have found by a preponderance of the evidence that W&G performed the asbestos insulation work in the LRHS boiler room.” They further determined that the trial court did not err by allowing the plaintiff to inform the jury that McCormick had been dismissed after W&G had opened the door by introducing evidence of McCormick’s prior presence in the suit, as they were in the best position to evaluate potential confusion to the jury caused by the evidence. Judgment affirmed.