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Articles Posted in Mesothelioma Court Rulings & Legislation

A St. Louis state jury recently handed down a substantial $8.4 million plaintiff’s verdict on behalf of a former auto mechanic who claimed his mesothelioma cancer diagnosis was due to negligence on the part of Ford Motor Company. The jury’s award included $5,725,000 in actual damages and $2 million in punitive damages, as well as an additional $708,000 in actual damages for the victim’s wife, finding she “did sustain damage as a direct result of injury to her husband.”

According to the asbestos cancer lawsuit, filed in St. Louis City Circuit Court, the plaintiff was allegedly exposed to asbestos fibers by working with brakes, gaskets, clutches, and OEM replacement parts developed and sold by Ford Motor Company. As a result of years of exposure to asbestos, the plaintiff developed mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer which usually affects the lungs but can spread to other areas of the body such as the heart and abdomen.

The plaintiff’s mesothelioma cancer lawsuit claims that despite Ford’s knowledge about the risks the asbestos in its auto parts could pose to innocent people, the automaker chose not to provide any warning about the dangers. The plaintiff worked as a mechanic at Ford, Mercury, and Lincoln automobile dealerships from the 1960s until the 1980s, much of that during a period before the federal government had addressed the dangers of asbestos.

Many people assume that asbestos has been banned from commercial, industrial, and military use, but the truth is that the substance, often used as an insulation, is merely so heavily regulated that it is “effectively” banned. Federal regulations put in place since the 1970s have essentially outlawed use of asbestos by making it extremely difficult to obtain approval from the federal government for approval of new uses of the substance.

However, that does not mean innocent people are still not suffering harm from asbestos exposure. Only a few dozen countries have complete bans on asbestos and several others are beginning to increase their exports of the mineral to emerging markets worldwide. Thanks to a new rule that went into effect in June, the U.S. could soon allow new uses of asbestos to be studied and possibly grow the market here.

That rule came to an amendment of the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) which prohibits manufacturing, processing, and distribution of commercial asbestos as well as asbestos-containing mixtures and articles used for other purposes. While the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) maintains the changes to the TSCA only allow the agency to monitor the development, use, and disposal of dangerous substances, including asbestos, critics worry it would open the door to revive asbestos usage.

A Florida state appeals court recently denied a motion by the defendant in an asbestos cancer lawsuit to bar testimony from one of its company executives who plaintiffs say would have inside knowledge about the defendant’s history and interactions with asbestos-containing products, as well as its adherence to occupational health and safety laws. The mesothelioma cancer lawsuit names utility company Florida Power & Light Co. as the defendant and accused the business of knowingly exposing the plaintiff to dangerous carcinogens which caused his cancer diagnosis and other health problems.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, originally filed in 2017 in Miami-Dade County Circuit Court, the plaintiff developed mesothelioma from decades of asbestos exposure over the course of his employment at Florida Power & Light Co. The plaintiff asserts that the company’s negligence is responsible for his deadly cancer diagnosis by allowing him to work with and around asbestos at power plants operated by Florida Power & Light without any warning about the dangers posed by the carcinogenic material.

In its defense of the lawsuit, Florida Power & Light Co. sought a court’s injunction to block the plaintiff from deposing corporate representatives who would testify about the victim’s work conditions at the time of his employment. According to court documents, “FPL moved for protective orders from each notice and in support, submitted an affidavit prepared by its senior attorney, stating that compliance and production would require FPL to expend significant time, be voluminous and would cost millions of dollars.”

A New Jersey federal judge held key evidentiary hearings in coordinated pretrial proceedings covering thousands of asbestos talcum powder lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson through the process of multidistrict litigation (MDL). Lawsuits involved in MDL allow both sides to conduct common discovery in cases to apply rules at trial which will apply at trial for all the individual cases, a procedure which may benefit both plaintiffs and defendants depending on the judge’s rulings.

Of particular importance to the pretrial MDL hearings in the asbestos cancer lawsuits are the expert witnesses identified by the plaintiffs to testify at trial. Those expert witnesses include biologists, physicians and epidemiologists who have concluded there is scientific evidence that talc use can cause ovarian cancer. Back in May 2019, Johnson & Johnson asked the federal judge overseeing the MDL process to exclude the opinions of 22 expert witnesses retained by the plaintiff on the grounds these individuals “they misapply scientific principles” and “engage in unsupported leaps of logic.”

Attorneys for Johnson & Johnson have said in media interviews that an exclusion of some or all of the plaintiffs’ witnesses along with a judge’s ruling there is insufficient evidence of causation to present to any jury would wipe out the majority of the cases before they could see a courtroom. On the other hand, the plaintiffs’ lawyers have asked the judge to deny Johnson & Johnson’s request, arguing their expert witnesses are qualified and rely on sound methodologies to reach their opinions.

A federal judge recently denied a request by pharmaceutical and cosmetics giant Johnson & Johnson to transfer thousands of asbestos cancer lawsuits from various state courts under one single federal court. The move comes after Johnson & Johnson’s one-time co-defendant and talc supplier, Imerys Talc USA, declared bankruptcy in the face of an estimated 14,000 other asbestos cancer lawsuits filed against the pair over allegations the two produced carcinogenic talc-based products for decades.

Johnson & Johnson had asked a Delaware federal district court judge to transfer some 2,400 talcum powder asbestos cancer lawsuits to her court in the wake of co-defendant Imerys filing for federal Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection. Had Johnson & Johnson been granted the motion, the company would have been able to conduct common discovery on the asbestos cancer lawsuits under a unified jurisdiction, potentially giving the company more leverage to settle or otherwise resolve the claims.

“The judges in the states who are already handling these cases are better suited to hear the claims before them than is this Court, which would have to hear thousands of cases and apply different state laws to each,” the federal judge said. The judge’s ruling noted her federal court did not have the authority over the lawsuits against Johnson & Johnson due to the fact that the company’s co-defendant filed for bankruptcy in that court and that it failed to establish the lawsuits against it affect Imerys and the bankruptcy proceedings.

10 U.S. states and the District of Columbia recently filed a lawsuit against the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to force the agency to tighten rules regarding the oversight of asbestos and reduce the possible harm to the public posed by the mineral’s use. The suit is being led by the states attorneys general of California and Massachusetts, Xavier Becerra and Maura Healey, with Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Minnesota, New Jersey, Oregon, Washington, and the District of Columbia joining.

“Asbestos is a known carcinogen that kills tens of thousands of people every year, yet the administration is choosing to ignore the very serious health risks it poses,” Healey said in a statement to the press. While federal laws have regulated asbestos to the point where the substance is effectively banned from use, changes to the Toxic Substances Control Act (TSCA) passed by Congress in 2016 would create a pathway for lessening regulations.

The lawsuit comes after the plaintiffs request for the EPA to collect more data on asbestos was denied by the agency in which it determined that the EPA was already aware of all current uses of asbestos, and had the essential information needed to assess the risks. To that point, the EPA points to an April 2019 rule giving it the power to review the asbestos products that were no longer on the market before they could be sold again in the United States.

A proposed piece of legislation recently introduced in the Pennsylvania House of Representatives purports to give relief to mesothelioma cancer victims who developed their disease through the course of their employment. The proposed law, House Bill 1234, would amend The Pennsylvania Occupational Disease Act (Act) to allow mesothelioma cancer victims to file for workers’ compensation claim.  The result, however, would arguably preclude mesothelioma victims common law claims against his employer making workers’ compensation the “exclusive remedy” barring the victims day in court.

As the law currently stands in the state of Pennsylvania, workers who develop an occupational disease as a result of their employment must do so within 300 weeks of their last workplace exposure or date of employment. Those who become aware of or receive their occupational disease diagnosis outside the 300-week statute of limitations are generally barred from receiving workers’ compensation benefits.  The Pennsylvania Supreme Court in Tooey v. AK Steel Corp., 623 Pa. 60 (2013) recognized that mesothelioma victims would have no remedy under the Act and held that the exclusivity provision does not preclude a plaintiff’s common law claims.

Unfortunately for those exposed to some carcinogens, their life-changing diagnosis is not received until many years after their last exposure due to the latency period associated with their condition. This is especially true for those who suffer from mesothelioma, a rare and deadly form of cancer caused by exposure to asbestos fibers in once common, everyday industrial and military applications.

A Louisiana federal judge recently denied a motion by the Ford Motor Co. which sought to throw out the asbestos cancer lawsuit, brought on behalf of the now deceased victim, alleging the automaker and others are responsible for the plaintiff’s injuries. While the same judge did rule partly in favor of Ford in limiting some of the claims brought against the company, the other asbestos-related claims may proceed against Ford and other named defendants.

According to the mesothelioma cancer lawsuit, filed in U.S. District Court for the  Eastern District of Louisiana, the victim developed peritoneal mesothelioma during his work as a mechanic and generator service technician. After filing his asbestos cancer lawsuit in a Louisiana state court in 2017, the case was removed to federal court the following year. Sadly, the victim passed away from his asbestos related cancer in 2018, leaving his surviving family to continue to action under a wrongful death claim.

In their lawsuit, the plaintiffs made claims against the Ford Motor Co. under Louisiana’s general negligence statute, employer liability statute, premises liability as owners of the premises where the victim worked, and product liability laws for manufacturing the asbestos laden products. In seeking to skirt liability, Ford claimed the plaintiffs were barred from recovering for any damages under the Louisiana Workers’ Compensation Act (LWCA) because the alleged injuries took place during the course of the victim’s employment.

 A New York Supreme Court recently handed down an important ruling allowing a female plaintiff’s asbestos cancer lawsuit against cosmetics and pharmaceutical company Colgate-Palmolive to continue. The ruling comes after the court made a legal determination that it did in fact have jurisdiction in the case, potentially paving the way for other similar lawsuits in the state to be heard.

According to the lawsuit, filed in New York Supreme Court for New York County, the victim used talc-based products like Cashmere Bouquet manufactured and sold by Colgate-Palmolive on almost a daily basis in New York from 1979 through 1985. The lawsuit claims the plaintiff sometimes used the products more than once a day, even using so much talcum powder that the room she was in would become dusty, forcing her to sneeze.

The plaintiff claims that the Colgate-Palmolive talcum powder products she used were contaminated is carcinogenic asbestos and that she developed a serious form of lung cancer as a result of the asbestos exposure. The asbestos cancer lawsuit goes on to claim that despite knowing fully well about the potential dangers its talc-based products could pose to innocent consumers, the company decided against placing any warning labels alluding to the risks, including developing mesothelioma.

The Pennsylvania State Supreme Court recently heard arguments over how juries may apportion financial liability in asbestos cancer lawsuits as it relates to a state law passed in 2011 meant to provide clear guidance to courts in such matters. Despite the Pennsylvania Fair Share Act’s passage nearly a decade ago, Pennsylvania courts have inconsistently applied the laws as they relate to matters of strict liability, leaving it to the state’s highest court to sort out the appropriate application.

Under the Pennsylvania Fair Share Act, in matters of strict liability with multiple defendants (such as an asbestos cancer lawsuit) where juries find in favor of the plaintiff there must also be an apportionment of the liability to each negligent party, known as pro rata. Essentially, the law requires juries to prescribe a dollar amount each defendant owes separately to the plaintiff and other defendants are not responsible for the other’s apportionment of the judgement.

However, several of the state’s lower courts have inconsistently applied the 2011 version of the law as it pertains to mesothelioma cancer lawsuits, instead choosing to follow language from an earlier version of the same law. Under some courts’ interpretations, financial liability has been applied on a per capita basis, meaning each defendant pays an equal share of the damages awarded by the jury.

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