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McDonald v. A.C.&S., Inc., et al. is a recent New York asbestos exposure case. James McDonald worked as a sheet metal worker for his family’s indoor environment comfort company during the 1970s. This type of work includes working with heating, ventilation and air conditioner (HVAC). While working at this family business, there were other workers close to McDonald, who were working with Crane Co. valves. These workers would repair, remove and replace the Crane Co. valves in close proximity to McDonald. After many decades, McDonald was diagnosed with mesothelioma because of asbestos exposure, and he died in 2000.
McDonald’s estate (plaintiff), represented by his wife, brought an asbestos personal injury and wrongful death action against Crain Co. (Crane or defendant) and several other parties. Plaintiff asserts that Crane Co. supplied, manufactured and distributed products containing asbestos which were handled by workers surrounding McDonald when he worked at his family business. This bystander asbestos exposure could have caused the mesothelioma in McDonald, argued the plaintiff.
In order to prove that McDonald got mesothelioma from his exposure to the Crain valves, plaintiff provided the testimony of McDonald’s former co-worker (Thayer) at the family HVAC business. Thayer testified that McDonald was exposed to the Crane gaskets and insulation which contained asbestos. Thayer was unable to identify specific dates where he saw McDonald near the Crane valves or the work sites where the valves were located.
The Crane valves that were insulated did not contain asbestos but the valves that were not insulated had gaskets containing asbestos. Crane defended itself by arguing that Thayer had not identified which valves were used by the family HVAC business. Crane argued further that the plaintiff’s witness was not able to prove critical components to show that McDonald’s mesothelioma was caused by the Crane valves. Thus, Crane asked the court to enter summary judgment in its favor.
The court in this case looks to the law surrounding asbestos cases and the summary judgment process. In order to grant summary judgment, there must be no genuine dispute as to material fact in the case that must be presented to a jury, and the party moving for summary judgment must be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. In this case, in order for the defendant to be granted summary judgment by the court the defendant had to present evidence that could illustrate the fact that there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact.
Once the defendant provided its evidence to support a motion for summary judgment, the burden shifted to the plaintiff to show that the victim was exposed to asbestos fiber from the defendant’s product. The court cites previous case law that says that the plaintiff must show facts and conditions that allow for a reasonable inference that the defendant is liable.
The critical point in this case is where Thayer testified that he and McDonald worked in a psychiatric facility boiler room that contained Crane valves. Thayer was able to sufficiently identify these Crane valves despite the defendant’s argument that his testimony was mere speculation.
Because of this remaining dispute as to a material fact, it becomes the jury’s responsibility to determine the weight and admissibility of the expert testimony. For this reason, the judge could not grant the defendant’s motion for summary judgment and the case will proceed to trial.
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