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PA Court Upholds “Any Exposure” Theory Despite Earlier Ruling

With our technology and medical knowledge expanding exponentially, it’s inevitable that the justice system would be relying more heavily on such information as evidence.
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But when medical, scientific and legal opinions intersect, it can make for a contentious battle. Nowhere is that more evident than in mesothelioma cases.

In 2011, a Pennsylvania judge awarded the estate of a deceased mesothelioma plaintiff a $950,000 sum from an electric company for its negligent exposure of the vicitm to asbestos fibers through its welding rods.

The electric company, however, appealed that decision. Our Boston mesothelioma lawyers have since learned that the appellate court affirmed the earlier ruling, refusing the company’s challenge to the “any exposure” theory, despite an earlier ruling by that state’s supreme court, which found that the theory is not sufficient to establish causation.

The case, Wolfinger v. Lincoln Electric Company, provides some hope that judges and justices will continue to hand down common sense decisions, even in states where patients’ rights have been actively restricted.

If you aren’t familiar, the “any exposure” theory basically holds that each and every exposure to every kind of asbestos in a workplace setting may constitute causation for the disease.

Many courts reject this, and plaintiffs are often required to show evidence of repeated exposure – despite the fact that doctors and researchers agree no type or amount of asbestos exposure is safe.

In 2005 in Pennsylvania, plaintiffs in Betz v. Pneuma Abex attempted to assert that any exposure to asbestos, even casual, was basis enough to assert causation of mesothelioma or asbestos-related illnesses. This was the argument used, even though the plaintiff in that case had in fact suffered repeated exposure to the fibers in brake linings through his decades of work as an auto mechanic. The court, however, rejected that “any exposure” theory, and that precedent has been upheld in that state ever since.

Then came the Wolfinger case. Lincoln Electric appealed the initial verdict on several grounds, including that:

  1. The court had erroneously allowed expert testimony indicating that “any exposure” to the defendant’s asbestos-laden products was causation, in violation of Betz;
  2. The trial court erred in allowing the plaintiff’s doctor to testify as to the root cause of his illness.

The court, however, rejected those arguments on the basis that despite the doctor’s testimony – specifically with regard to the “any exposure” theory, it was not the only evidence offered by the plaintiff as to causation.

In other words, the plaintiff’s attorneys didn’t leave it up to this one witness to find a casual link. As such, the earlier verdict was upheld.

Once again, it is critical for the plaintiff attorney to thoroughly research every aspect of a claim before moving forward. Choosing an attorney who is committed to that level of dedication will be critical to the success of your case.

If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in New England, call for a free and confidential appointment at 1-888-367-2900.

Additional Resources:
Wolfinger v. Lincoln Electric Company, Superior Court of Pennsylvania, Filed Feb. 14, 2013
More Blog Entries:
Long-Running Asbestos Case Has New Twist, Feb. 23, 2013, Boston Mesothelioma Lawyer Blog