Court of Appeals Upholds Lower Court’s Rulings Denying Caterpillar’s Motions for Summary Judgment, a New Trial, and to Vacate Jury Award

In this case, it was alleged that the decedent, Edwin Estenson, was exposed to asbestos while in the Navy from 1948 to 1952 and while working on Caterpillar equipment for three contractors between 1955 and the late 1960s. Prior to trial, Caterpillar’s  motion for summary judgment was denied.  Following trial, where Caterpillar was the only defendant, the jury awarded the plaintiff a verdict of approximately $4.5 million. Caterpillar subsequently appealed the court’s denial of its motion for summary judgment, motion for a new trial, and motion to vacate the verdict.

The court affirmed the lower court’s ruling on all issues. On the motion for summary judgment, the court reviewed the testimony of the decedent, that of Caterpillar’s corporate representative, and a declaration from the plaintiff’s expert pathologist, Dr. Eugene Mark, and found that there were no material issues of fact and stated: “Viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the nonmoving party, the Estate presented sufficient causation evidence to meet the substantial factor causation test and to survive summary judgment.”

Regarding the motion for a new trial, the court reviewed admitted testimony of the decedent and the substantial factor testimony of Dr. Mark and held: “The trial court did not err in denying the motion for a new trial or in allowing Dr. Mark to express his opinion that Estenson’s exposure to Caterpillar asbestos-containing products was a substantial factor in causing his mesothelioma.” On the motion to vacate the verdict, Caterpillar argued that the verdict for noneconomic damages 10 times greater than economic damages was the result of “passion and prejudice.” As the court held: “Because substantial evidence supports the jury’s verdict, the trial court did not abuse its discretion in denying Caterpillar’s motion to vacate the verdict.”

Read the full decision here.