Court Rules About Asbestos Exposure Evidence

Springfield, IL – The Illinois Supreme Court recently handed down a decision in favor of a defendant in an asbestos lawsuit. Clarence Nolan brought the suit against heating-product manufacturer Weil-McLain, alleging that he was exposed to asbestos-containing products as a result of the company’s negligence. Nolan developed mesothelioma, a rare but aggressive cancer that is linked exclusively to asbestos exposure, and later died.
Weil-McLain was the final defendant remaining after 11 others were dismissed or settled out of court, and the company had first attempted, but was not allowed, to present evidence regarding the other companies’ asbestos-containing products. They claimed that exposure to asbestos at the other companies was the sole proximate cause of Nolan’s death. In legal terminology, a proximate cause is one which sets off a natural, continuous chain of events leading to a definite conclusion. The Supreme Court ruled last week that the jury ought to have heard evidence of Nolan’s exposure to other asbestos products. The court overturned both appellate and circuit court decisions in the case. A jury which had heard the trial against Weil-McLain had decided in 2004 to award $2.4 million to Nolan’s widow. The amount was later halved, since the family had already received $1.2 million from the other defendants. In a statement, the court said, “In sum, the exclusion of evidence of decedent’s other exposures to asbestos eliminated evidence of alternative causes for decedent’s injuries, improperly preventing defendant from supporting its sole proximate cause of death defense. A new trial will now be held in circuit court. The decision to allow all evidence to be admitted in an asbestos case is an important one, especially for defendants. When a worker has multiple avenues of exposure to asbestos, lawyers agree, it’s important that all relevant information be revealed to the jury in order for them to assign causality and award punitive damages in the most equitable manner possible. Asbestos, which is a naturally occurring mineral fiber with great tensile strength and resistance to heat and other damaging elements, was commonly used in the manufacturing of building products and for other industrial and commercial uses in the mid-20th century. It is, however, a known carcinogen; exposure to it, especially repeated exposure over a period of time, can possibly lead to deadly diseases such as mesothelioma, asbestosis and pleural disease.