U.S. District Court Finds That Nonworkers’ Exposure to Asbestos Was Within the Zone of Risk

There were eight cases, all involving claims by or on behalf of the estates of now deceased former workers of the defendant Weyerhaeuser Co. The former workers had claimed that their nonoccupational exposure to asbestos was the cause of their injuries and subsequent deaths.

Weyerhaeuser operated a door manufacturing facility in Marshfield, Wis., from 1960 to 2000. It was there that the company manufactured wood products with multiple operations and divisions on that site. The defendant manufactured a door containing asbestos in the plant from 1968 until it stopped using asbestos in 1978.

The evidence in these cases showed that asbestos dust was emitted from the Weyerhaeuser plant. It was also shown that Weyerhaeuser hauled asbestos dust and scrap waste through landfills into the surrounding community. All of the eight plaintiffs in the case were employed by Weyerhaeuser at the Marshfield plant during the relevant time period assigned to varying job duties.

The plaintiffs relied on the testimony of three expert witnesses to establish causation.  The plaintiffs’ experts, among other opinions, said the plaintiffs’ community and household exposures to asbestos from Weyerhaeuser’s operations in Marshfield were substantial factors in causing the plaintiffs’ injuries.

Weyerhaeuser moved to strike the trial testimony of the plaintiffs’ experts.  Weyerhaeuser argued that the plaintiffs were unable to prove injuries beyond those resulting from asbestos exposure on the job, for which they, their estates and their spouses may only recover under workers’ compensation laws.

The issue in the case was whether the plaintiffs’ experts could reliably testify that the plaintiffs’ nonoccupational exposure was a substantial contributing factor to causing the plaintiffs’ mesothelioma caused by exposure to asbestos.

The court addressed the experts issue by stating that the plaintiffs must demonstrate only that the nonoccupational exposures were a “substantial factor” in producing their respective asbestos-related injuries.

In a case cited by the U.S. District Court judge, Tragarz v. Keene Corp., 980 F.2d 411 (7th Cir. 1992), it was held that consideration of “frequency, regularity and proximity of exposure” is necessary to demonstrate that the exposure to a defendant’s asbestos products is a substantial factor in causing the injured party’s disease. Tragarz also held that evidence of exposure to other manufacturer’s asbestos was not relevant to the issue of causation, stating, “courts in applying the substantial factor test do not seem concerned with which of the many contributing causes are most substantial. Rather, they seemed concerned with whether each contributing cause, standing alone, is a substantial factor in causing the alleged injury.”

The court here concluded that the substantial factor test does not require the plaintiffs to compare their nonoccupational exposures to their occupational exposures.  Still, the court, quoting the 6th Circuit’s opinion in Lindstrom v. A-C Product Liability Trust, 424 F.3d 488, 492 (6th 2005) stated that “plaintiff must show a high enough level of exposure that an inference that the asbestos was a substantial factor and the injury is more than conjectural.”

The district court judge found that the plaintiffs’ experts’ opinion testimony on causation was sufficiently reliable for three of the plaintiffs with mesothelioma, based on proof that they lived in a home within 1.25 miles of the plant for at least one year.  The remaining plaintiffs with mesothelioma did not meet the criteria of having lived in a home within 1.25 miles of the plant for at least a year, and, therefore, the court found they failed to offer expert opinions that would support a finding of liability against the defendant Weyerhaeuser. Accordingly, the court granted Weyerhaeuser’s motions to strike the plaintiffs’ experts and for summary judgment with respect to five plaintiffs allowing the remaining three plaintiffs to proceed with their cases.

Boyer v. Weyerhaeuser Company, 2016 WL 705233 (W.D. Wis. 2016).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling asbestos caused injury and death cases, worksite injury cases, construction site injury and death cases, catastrophic injury cases, car crash cases and truck accident cases for individuals and families who have been harmed, injured or died as a result of the carelessness or negligence of another for more than 40 years in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Winfield, Villa Park, Bolingbrook, Bensenville, Romeoville, Joliet, Gurnee, Round Lake Beach, Matteson, Crete, Beecher, Steger, Vernon Hills, Wheeling, Evanston, Skokie, Niles, Des Plaines, Mount Prospect and Prospect Heights, Ill.

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