$6.6 Million Verdict Reinstated by Florida’s Highest Court After Analysis of Arguments on Alternative Design, Causation, and Jury Instruction on Failure to Warn

In this case, the plaintiff, William Aubin, claimed he was exposed to asbestos from SG-210, an asbestos product used in items such as joint compound and texture sprays that was manufactured by Union Carbide Corporation. Following trial, a jury returned a verdict of $6.6 million finding Union Carbide was liable, in part, under the plaintiff’s claims of negligence and strict liability. The Third District Court of Appeal reversed the jury verdict on three grounds: “(1) the trial court erred in failing to apply the Restatement (Third) of Torts (“Third Restatement”), which exclusively adopts the ‘risk utility’ test for a design defect claim and imposes on plaintiffs the requirement of proving a reasonable alternative design; (2) the design defect was not a cause of Aubin’s damages; and (3) the jury instructions given by the trial court regarding the failure to warn were misleading because they failed to discuss Union Carbide’s learned intermediary defense — a doctrine setting forth the circumstances under which a manufacturer could discharge its duty to warn the end user by reasonably relying on an intermediary, who has received and has knowledge of the extent of the danger.”

In a 5-2 split decision, the Supreme Court remanded the case back to the Third District with instructions to reinstate the judgment. Regarding the alternative design argument, the court — following a lengthy analysis — held: “there is absolutely no requirement embodied in the Standard Jury Instructions, nor has this Court ever adopted a requirement as set forth in the Third Restatement, that the plaintiff must either present proof of a reasonable alternative design or establish that the product was manifestly unreasonable before the requirement of proof of an alternative design could be excused. We do not direct, at this point, whether the standard jury instructions should be modified in light of this opinion. The parties may, in proving or defending against such claims, present evidence that a reasonable alternative design existed and argue whether the benefit of the product’s design outweighed any risks of injury or death caused by the design.”

On the issue of causation, the court held: “Union Carbide was aware that using joint compounds and texture sprays, for which SG-210 Calidria was produced, would create respirable dust and thus be a more likely cause of both asbestosis and mesothelioma. Aubin presented expert testimony that opined exposure to respirable Calidria fibers causes mesothelioma. This evidence was sufficient to permit the jury to make the determination pertaining to causation.”

On the issue of the failure to warn jury instruction, the court held: “After examining the record and comparing the cases in support of the proposed jury instructions with the proposed instructions themselves, we reject Union Carbide’s argument that the trial court committed reversible error in failing to instruct on this theory. The special jury instructions requested by Union Carbide did not provide an accurate statement of the law as to this defense. In order to show that the trial court erred in failing to give its requested jury instruction, Union Carbide must show “the requested instruction contained an accurate statement of the law, the facts in the case supported a giving of the instruction, and the instruction was necessary for the jury to properly resolve the issues in the case.”

Read the full decision here.