Illinois First District Appellate Court Affirms $4.89 Million Verdict

ILLINOIS – On December 19, 2019, the Illinois First District Appellate Court affirmed $4.89 million verdict rendered in favor of deceased pleural mesothelioma claimant, Patrick O’Reilly, against the defendant, John Crane, Inc.

The decedent O’Reilly was a union pipefitter from 1957 to 1998, and alleged that he was exposed to asbestos from replacing and installing valves using packing and gaskets manufactured by John Crane. Following trial, a Cook County jury awarded damages in the amount of $6,022,814.06. The court reduced the verdict by $1,137,500 in setoffs and entered judgment on the verdict in the amount of $4,885,314.06. John Crane filed a post-trial motion for a new trial, which was denied.

On appeal, John Crane argued that the trial court erred in denying its motion for a new trial on the following grounds:

  1. It allowed the plaintiff’s medical expert, Dr. Jerrold Abraham, to testify as to cumulative dose
  2. It provided inaccurate instructions to the jury regarding proximate cause and state of the art
  3. It failed to include four settled defendants on the jury form
  4. It did not properly analyze certain settlement agreements prior to entering findings of good faith

Prior to trial, John Crane had moved to preclude the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Jerrold Abraham, arguing that Dr. Abraham’s cumulative exposure opinion failed to meet the frequency, regularity, and proximity standard for causation under Illinois law. John Crane also argued that Dr. Abraham’s opinions did not meet the Frye standard, as they amounted an unaccepted scientific theory that each and every exposure to asbestos causes disease. This pre-trial motion was denied.

During trial, Dr. Abraham testified that there are no known safe levels of asbestos exposure, that asbestos-related diseases are dose-responsive, and that once someone has sustained an asbestos-related disease, it does not matter whether they have had low or high exposure to asbestos. Dr. Abraham concluded that O’Reilly’s exposure to asbestos from John Crane packing from 1957 through 1985 would be consistent with his mesothelioma diagnosis, though he also opined that all asbestos-containing products to which O’Reilly was exposed were a substantially contributing factor to the cause of his disease.

In addition to Dr. Abraham, the plaintiffs called Dr. Arnold Brody, who testified generally regarding asbestos and its ability to cause cancer; Dr. Gerald Markowitz, who testified regarding the history of asbestos-related diseases, and government regulations regarding asbestos (state of the art); and William Ewing, a certified industrial hygienist, who testified that O’Reilly was exposed to asbestos when he used wire brushes and sanders to remove John Crane gaskets.

In upholding the verdict, the appellate court held that Dr. Abraham did not provide a cumulative exposure opinion. Rather, he provided the background knowledge to the jury that was required to interpret Dr. Ewing’s industrial hygiene opinion. The court further found that the plaintiff did not solely rely on Dr. Abraham’s testimony to establish causation, but rather established causation under Illinois law by offering Dr. Ewing’s testimony regarding the length of time that O’Reilly was exposed to asbestos and the amount of asbestos to which he was exposed, coupled with Dr. Abraham’s opinion regarding causation.

With regard to the jury instructions, at the close of evidence, the plaintiffs submitted the standard Illinois jury instruction for proximate cause. John Crane submitted a nonpattern instruction regarding proximate cause, which included language regarding substantial factor, and a nonpattern instruction defining state of the art. The court rejected both nonstandard instructions, and issued a sole proximate cause instruction.

The appellate court found no error in the jury instruction provided regarding proximate cause, and held that John Crane’s proposed instruction regarding state of the art did not comport with Illinois law, as the testimony established that by 1970 John Crane was aware of the dangers of asbestos dust and that pipefitters manipulated its encapsulated asbestos products in a way that produced dust.

Finally, with regard to the settled defendants on the jury verdict form, the appellate court found that John Crane had forfeited its claims as to two settled defendants by failing to raise arguments at the trial level as to their inclusion on the form, and failed to cite to case law holding that settled defendants in asbestos litigation must be include on the jury verdict form. The court further held that the trial court did not abuse its discretion in failing to include one settled defendant on the verdict form, or in approving good faith settlements of four defendants without knowing the amounts of the settlements or determining how same would be allocated.

Read the case decision here.