Directed Verdict Reversed for Floor Tile Defendant Based on Admissibility of Expert Opinion

CALIFORNIA – The plaintiff, Robert Friedman, alleged that he developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos through remodeling work undertaken in his home. He proceeded to trial against the defendant, American Biltrite, Inc. (ABI), a manufacturer of asbestos vinyl tile that was allegedly cut and installed in Friedman’s presence over three days in 1966. The plaintiff specifically testified that he observed the tile installers cutting the tile with a circular saw, which created dust.

ABI presented testimony from their corporate representative stating that vinyl tile was typically cut by a score and snap method that left perfect edges that did not need to be sanded, and that saw cutting the tile was impractical because it left rough edges and required sanding. To attempt to demonstrate that ABI’s tile would emit asbestos fibers, and that those fibers were sufficient to cause the plaintiff’s mesothelioma, the plaintiff’s experts, Steven Paskal, CIH, and James Dahlgren, M.D., both referenced a study that involved scoring and snapping asbestos-containing floor tile, and then lightly sanding it. ABI objected to the testimony.  The trial court sustained the objection, asserting that the score-and-snap study could not be used to shed light on possible asbestos release and exposures related to saw cut tile. ABI moved for a directed verdict, which the trial court granted.

In analyzing whether the trial court erred in granting ABI’s motion for a directed verdict, the appellate court considered whether there was some threshold exposure to the defendant’s product, and whether there was a reasonable medical probability that the exposure to the product was a “legal cause” or substantial factor in bringing about the plaintiff’s injury. They determined that the plaintiff’s testimony was sufficient evidence to establish the exposure element, and that the plaintiff’s experts had presented a prima facie case that small exposures could be sufficient to cause mesothelioma. They further evaluated the admissibility of testimony regarding the score-and-snap study. In reversing the order granting the motion for directed verdict and remanding the case to the trial court, the appellate court stated that ABI’s objections to the score-and-snap study went to the weight of the testimony about it, not its admissibility. They stated that the methods of cutting the tile were minor differences that did not render the opinions inadmissible, and that any flaws in the methodologies of the study could be explored through cross-examination and through defense expert witnesses.