Compressor Manufacturer’s Appeal Denied Based on Finding of Substantial Contribution to Decedent’s Disease

Myra Williams died on August 8, 2013 of complications from malignant mesothelioma. Plaintiff Jimmy Smith, along with his four children, filed suit against several defendants alleging that their products cause Myra’s mesothelioma. Smith alleged that he was exposed to asbestos fibers while working at the Placid Oil Facility in Natchitoches, Louisiana. Smith unknowingly brought fibers and dust home on his clothing after each day of work. Myra would handle and wash Jimmy’s clothing, and sustained what is commonly referred to as bystander asbestos exposure. Ingersoll–Rand was the manufacturer of ten compressors that were installed in the “compressor room” of the Placid Oil facility. The turbo chargers and exhaust pipes for each compressor were insulated with asbestos.  The plaintiffs also elicited testimony that the Ingersoll–Rand compressors had asbestos gaskets on them, which came directly from Ingersoll–Rand.

After a three-day bench trial, the trial court issued a judgment, accompanied by written reasons for judgment. Prior to trial, the plaintiffs settled with Placid Oil, Shreveport Rubber & Gasket and General Electric. That left Ingersoll–Rand as the only named defendant that proceeded to trial. As to the survival action, the trial court found Placid Oil and Ingersoll–Rand were at fault in causing Myra’s mesothelioma and were each liable for their virile share. In regard to the wrongful death action, the trial court concluded that under the law Ingersoll–Rand was solely at fault in causing Myra’s mesothelioma. Myra was awarded $3,000,000.00 in damages for her survival action. As to the wrongful death actions, Jimmy was awarded $1,000,000.00, and each of the four children were awarded $750,000 each. Ingersoll-Rand appealed the judgment of the trial court to the Third Circuit Court of Appeal of Louisiana.

The main argument on appeal was that Ingersoll-Rand claims the trial court erred in concluding that plaintiffs had proven a causal connection between the decedent’s disease and Ingersoll–Rand Company products. The standard of proof, developed by Louisiana courts over years of asbestos litigation, is known as the “substantial factor” test. A plaintiff must prove, by a preponderance of the evidence that: (1) her exposure to the defendant’s asbestos product was significant; and (2) that this exposure caused or was a substantial factor in bringing about her mesothelioma. Based on the testimony elicited in depositions and discovery, the Court of Appeals found no error on the trial court’s part in finding Myra’s exposure to asbestos as a result of Jimmy’s work with the Ingersoll–Rand compressors, was significant, and the exposure was a substantial factor in the development of her mesothelioma.

Additionally, the court found the trial court properly declared summary judgment to co-defendant J. Graves insulation, the trial court properly assigned responsibility in the survival action, the trial court properly assigned responsibility in the wrongful death action, and the trial court’s damages were not excessive in the wrongful death action. As such, the judgment of the lower court was affirmed in all respect.

Read the full decision here.