NEW YORK – On Friday, March 6, 2020, a New York County jury rendered a defense verdict in the matter of Sharon Epstein, Individually and as Independent Administrator of the Estate of Ira Epstein v. Atlas Turner, Inc., et al., an asbestos personal injury and wrongful death action involving the decedent, Ira Epstein, and his alleged bystander exposures to asbestos-containing products while working at the World Trade Center. Specifically, the plaintiff alleged that for approximately two months in 1970, Ira Epstein worked for an unidentified pipefitting company on the 72nd floor of Tower 1 of the World Trade Center, assisting pipefitters by running tools, coffee, and cigarettes. The plaintiff generally alleged that during this time, Epstein was in the vicinity of other trades, including tile workers, electricians, insulators, and drywall workers who he alleged used various asbestos-containing products during the course of their work. Epstein was diagnosed with mesothelioma in April 2016, and passed away in July 2017.
The plaintiff proceeded to trial against the defendants, Tishman Realty & Construction Co., Inc. and Port Authority of New York & New Jersey, before Justice Gerald Lebovits. The plaintiff argued that Tishman Realty was the general contractor for the World Trade Center construction, acting as an agent for the Port Authority, which was the owner of the World Trade Center. Prior to trial, both Tishman Realty and Port Authority moved for summary judgment. Both defendants argued, inter alia, that they did not supervise or control Epstein’s work, and therefore the plaintiff’s Labor Law Section 200 and negligence claims should have been dismissed. Both of the defendants also argued that there was no evidence to establish that they knew the composition of every product used at the World Trade Center, and whether same contained asbestos, or that they had control over every single contractor on the site. NYCAL coordinating judge, Justice Manuel Mendez, denied summary judgment to the defendants on the plaintiff’s Labor Law Section 200 and negligence claims. The court found issues of fact as to whether Tishman Realty held liability, “because it was responsible for making sure that the contractors complied with specifications at the World Trade Center which included directing the means and methods of applying the asbestos-dust producing products that were identified by [Epstein].” The court also found issues of fact as to whether Port Authority held liability, “because it issued detailed specifications at the World Trade Center directing the means and methods of applying asbestos-dust producing products that were identified by [Epstein].” Additionally, the court held that issues of fact remained as to whether both of the defendants had the knowledge and ability to stop such work.
During trial, the defendants challenged Epstein’s allegation that he ever worked at the World Trade Center, arguing that he did not, as the 72nd floor of the World Trade Center was not yet built at the time that he was allegedly present on the site. The plaintiff argued that Epstein could have been mistaken as to the floor on which he worked. Following the nearly two-month trial, which commenced jury selection on Jan. 7, 2020, a six-person jury rendered a unanimous verdict for the defendants, awarding no damages to Epstein’s estate.