Compound Manufacturer’s Directed Verdict Reversed

The estate of decedent Ronnie Startley filed a complaint against multiple defendants, including Welco Manufacturing Company, alleging that the defendants’ products caused the decedent to contract mesothelioma. All defendants except Welco either were dismissed or settled with plaintiffs prior to trial. Welco proceeded to trial. After trial, the trial court directed a verdict in favor of Welco, holding that there was not sufficient evidence to create an issue of material fact as to whether the use of Welco’s products caused the decedent to develop mesothelioma. The plaintiffs appealed the trial court’s decision to the First District Court of Appeals of Illinois.

The decedent worked finishing drywall primarily in Alabama. In 1965, he moved to Illinois with his family and worked with his cousin, Walter Startley, for three or four months before returning to Alabama. Walter was the plaintiff’s only witness to provide product identity while the decedent worked in Illinois. Walter testified he recalled a few brands of joint compounds used by the decedent, however, he could not specifically recall which brands were used on which site and how frequently each product was used.

The trial court found that the plaintiff had not met its burden and granted Welco’s Motion for Directed Verdict. In arriving at its decision the court stated, “[T]here’s very minimal product identification in this case. There is no testimony to support frequency of the [use of] defendant’s product. There’s no testimony to support repeated exposure to the defendant’s product.” The Court of Appeals disagreed. In its opinion, the court found that although Walter could not say how frequently he and the decedent used a Welco product for their work in Illinois, he did testify that they used it for some of their jobs. This was sufficient to create an issue of material fact as to whether the decedent’s exposure to a Welco product was a substantial factor in the decedent contracting mesothelioma. The case was remanded for a new trial.

Read the full decision here.