WISCONSIN – In a consolidated case, two plaintiffs asserted strict liability and negligence claims against 3M regarding respirators they wore at a factory which manufactured fireproof doors containing asbestos cores. Both plaintiffs developed mesothelioma from alleged asbestos exposure.
The plaintiffs were employed by Weyerhauser for approximately 40 years each. In 1972, a company memo required all employees to wear respirators whenever mineral core was machined or sanded. Testimony provided that plaintiffs wore 3M masks. In that same year, 3M received the necessary certificate of approval from the National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health and the U.S. Bureau of Mines. 3M argued in its motion for summary judgment that, pursuant to Wisconsin law, this regulatory approval created a rebuttable presumption that the respirators were not defective. In response, plaintiffs produced extensive evidence that the respirators were defective because they failed to meet the required inhalation and exhalation pressure drop values.
The court denied 3M’s motion for summary judgment because a reasonable jury could find that 1) pressure drop related to comfort but also impacted faceseal and, in turn, the ability of the mask to prevent asbestos exposure; and 2) 3M manufactured and sold masks that did not meet the certification requirement values for pressure drop. The court cautioned that its ruling did not mean that the plaintiffs’ task of establishing liability would be easy, as they still had to demonstrate that: the two arguable deficiencies constituted defects; the defects caused exposure to asbestos; and the defects were a substantial contributing factor in causing their mesothelioma.