Illinois Appellate Court Reverses Verdict Based on Defendant Being Precluded from Introducing Alternative Exposure Evidence

In this Illinois case, the plaintiff claimed at that he was exposed to asbestos at property owned by the defendant. At trial, the defendant sought to introduce into evidence other substantial asbestos exposure at a different unrelated facility. The defendant’s argument was that the other, more substantial exposure was the sole proximate cause of the plaintiff’s asbestosis, not the minimal asbestos exposure at defendant’s facility. After a lengthy discussion of Illinois’ case law on proximate cause and burden, the appellate court decided the trial court erred in precluding the evidence of this alternative exposure, stating: “Based on our supreme court’s opinions in Leonardi and Nolan, defendant in this case did not have to prove anything. We find plaintiff’s argument defendant had no-proximate-cause defense because he had no expert witnesses disclosed on causation is simply incorrect as a matter of law. Defendant did not need to establish UNARCO was the sole proximate cause of plaintiff’s condition. However, for plaintiff to prevail, he had to establish defendant was a proximate cause of his asbestosis. While defendant had no obligation to do so, it should have been allowed to present evidence of plaintiff’s UNARCO work experience in an attempt to establish plaintiff’s exposure at UNARCO was to blame for plaintiff’s asbestosis should the jury find plaintiff had asbestosis. Because the trial court did not allow defendant to present this evidence, once the jury found plaintiff had asbestosis, it could only conclude the asbestosis was caused by plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos while working for defendant. Based on the facts in this case, the trial court’s error was particularly egregious, considering a large portion of plaintiff’s case was based on plaintiff’s exposure to dust from UNARCO’s operation while working for defendant. For the reasons stated in the preceding paragraph, this error clearly was not harmless. Based on the evidence it heard, the jury clearly found plaintiff had an asbestos-related disease, which it could only blame on defendant because it heard no other evidence with regard to asbestos exposure.”

Read the full decision here.