But Consolidated Rail Corporation (Conrail) is only the latest and most recent example of a corporate defendant losing that argument. Last week, an Appeals Court rejected the company’s appeal of a $2.3 million jury award after the jury rejected Contrail’s argument that cigarette smoking was solely responsible for the plaintiff’s lung cancer, despite extensive exposure to asbestos on the job. The justices ruled the victim had met his legal burden of proof by presenting enough evidence to show exposure to asbestos was a substantial contributing factor to his cancer.
That’s the legal requirement: Substantial contributing factor. While a victim’s own negligent behavior (like smoking) may be taken into account, it does not absolve a defendant from all liability.