An appellate court in California recently reversed a trial court’s summary judgment in favor of a defendant in an asbestos lawsuit after finding the evidence supported a reasonable inference of causation for the plaintiff’s mesothelioma diagnosis.
In Ganoe v. Metalclad Insulation Corp., the court agreed that triable issues of material fact existed, meaning summary judgment in favor of the defense was inappropriate. This doesn’t mean the plaintiffs win their case, but it is a victory that will grant them the opportunity to present the case in court. Furthermore, the court awarded them damages for the cost of the appeal.
Asbestos exposure attorneys understand that in these cases, establishing a strong case prior to trial is critical. A summary judgment can be awarded if the trial court finds there isn’t enough evidence of material fact to support the plaintiff’s claim. Here, California’s Second Appellate District Court of Appeal for Division Three found the evidence to be sufficient to proceed to trial.
According to court records, the plaintiff was employed at a tire and rubber plant in southern California for more than a decade, beginning in the late 1960s.
In the fall of 2010, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. He filed a lawsuit against Metalclad, alleging their products used by his employer were the source of the asbestos that made him ill. While the action was pending, the worker died, and the case was converted to a survival and wrongful death action.
In the fall of 2012, the defendant firm moved for summary judgment, alleging there was no evidence to support a claim that it was responsible for the decedent’s illness or death. It argued the discovery responses were factually devoid, and the plaintiffs hadn’t identified any witnesses testifying to the fact that the decedent worked with or around any products that both contained asbestos and were either installed or removed by the company. In support of this, the firm provided testimony from one former co-worker who testified he’d “never heard of” the defendant company, as well as an executive for the defendant, who testified there was no documentation or personal knowledge of those within the firm of having ever supplied materials to the decedent’s employer.
However, two months later, the defendant produced a document that ran contrary to this reasoning. Specifically, the record showed the firm had performed insulation work on the steam piping at the rubber plant in the mid-1970s, when the decedent worked there. The defendant conceded it hadn’t conducted a thorough search of its records in response to the discovery for this case, and was instead relying on discovery responses that had been provided in a similar action brought by another ex-employee of the rubber company.
The plaintiff then filed an amended discovery response, reflecting the specifics of that work, including that the new pipe tie-ins required the removal of old insulation that released asbestos into the air that the decedent breathed. An expert witness testified on the plaintiff’s behalf that the chalky white material that was kicked up during this process was asbestos “with 99 percent probability,” given the other circumstantial evidence.
Nonetheless, the trial court granted the defense motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff hadn’t identified specific locations where or dates when the work occurred.
Upon appeal, the plaintiffs argued the trial court erred in ruling the defendant had met the burden of proof required for granting summary judgment. The appellate court agreed, finding the court improperly shifted the burden of proof to the plaintiff, the non-moving party, in the request for summary judgment. Specifically, the trial court did not offer any analysis of the evidence as provided by the defendant before granting its request.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling 1-800-275-3332. We have offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Ganoe v. Metalclad Insulation Corp., July 21, 2014, California Court of Appeal, Second Appellate District, Division Three
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Judge Allows Punitive Damages in Asbestos Litigation, April 22, 2014, Asbestos Lawyer Blog