The Superior Court of Pennsylvania was recently tasked with determining whether the decision by the state supreme court in Betz v. Pneumo Abex, LLC effectively barred expert testimony relying upon the “any exposure” theory of asbestos-related diseases.
In weighing the facts of Rost, R. v. Ford Motor Company, the court ultimately deemed them to be significantly different from those in Betz, and therefore affirmed an earlier verdict in favor of the plaintiff.
Boston mesothelioma attorneys recognize this was an important ruling in so far as it underscored that a ban on the “any exposure” theory doesn’t necessarily mean that the testimony of any expert who espouses it should be discounted.
The theory of “any exposure” holds that no amount of exposure to asbestos fibers is safe, and therefore any amount of exposure can be potentially harmless.
Asbestos defense attorneys have fought aggressively to see a rejection of this theory because it significantly reduces the burden of proof on the plaintiff.
Many courts have come to adopt the defense stance on the issue, and essentially, that means the mesothelioma victim needs to provide proof of repeated or heavy exposure.
Still, that doesn’t mean that doctors and scientists share the same view. They are fully aware of the potential effects of this substance on the human body. To discount an expert witness’s entire testimony just because he or she subscribes to this theory – and says as much in court – would be inherently unfair.
And in the Rost case, the court ruled Betz was inapplicable because the plaintiff and his wife weren’t basing the case on a foundation of “any exposure.” Rather, the record revealed “more than sufficient evidence” to establish causation between the manufacturer’s asbestos-laden product and the plaintiff’s illness.
According to court records, the plaintiff filed suit against the defendant in 2009, shortly after being diagnosed with mesothelioma. Several defendants settled before the trial. Ford did not.
At trial, the plaintiff presented evidence showing he worked at a dealership for the auto company for several months back in 1950. During that time, he serviced brakes at the facility, which contained anywhere from 40 to 60 percent asbestos by weight.
An expert witness for the plaintiff testified regarding studies conducted showing exposure for just one day leads to an increased risk of disease in animals. He went on to say that month-long exposure doubles the risk of a person developing the terminal cancer.
The plaintiff won nearly $1 million in damages. However, Ford appealed, arguing the plaintiff failed to offer competent expert witness testimony showing his exposure to Ford’s asbestos products was sufficient, citing the Betz case.
The court rejected Ford’s argument, and upheld the jury’s earlier verdict in favor of the ailing former auto worker.
If you or a loved one is diagnosed with mesothelioma in Boston, call for a free and confidential appointment at (617) 777-7777.
Rost, R. v. Ford Motor Company, May 19, 2014, Superior Court of Pennsylvania
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