Inference of Exposure Leads to Reversal of Summary Judgment against Boiler Defendant

Plaintiffs filed suit against several defendants including Cleaver Brooks “CB” alleging that their decedent, Ronald Callanan, developed and passed from asbestosis as a result of his exposure to defendants’ products. Specifically, Plaintiffs alleged that Callanan worked with David Wolfe at FM Engineering as a field inspector. Their work included inspecting CB boilers but Wolfe was unable to testify that he saw Callanan inspect those boilers because they worked independently from one another. Callanan also worked with Samuel Sorrels at Protection Mutual until 1987. CB moved for summary judgment arguing that Plaintiffs failed to present evidence that Callanan was exposed to asbestos from a CB boiler. The Circuit Court granted the motion and Plaintiffs appealed.

On appeal, the Court reminded the standard of summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine issue as to material fact. Relying on the Sombright case, CB argued that Plaintiffs’ complaint only alleged exposure through 1983 and therefore Sorrels’ testimony shouldn’t be considered since he worked with Callanan after 1983. The Court disagreed as circumstantial evidence may be used to create an issue of material fact. Here, the testimony illustrated that Sorrels saw the products Callanan worked around, i.e., the same products involved during his time frame working with Wolfe. Moreover, CB took the position that Plaintiffs failed to produce expert evidence that Plaintiff was exposed to a CB boiler. Relying on ITT Commercial, the Court stated that Plaintiffs’ evidence supported an inference to the contrary. The Court continued and stated that expert testimony is not required for a jury to make an inference. Here, CB had admitted that Wolfe had the same job responsibilities as Callanan which included exposure to dust from CB boilers. Accordingly, Plaintiffs had shown that the record presented a genuine dispute that should have been decided by the jury. Summary judgment was therefore reversed.

Read the case decision here.