Wisconsin Appeals Court Vacates $1.5 Million Judgment Against Brake Manufacturer
January 24, 2012
For the second time in two months, a court has made headlines by reversing course on a high-profile asbestos case. First Mississippi, now Wisconsin.
The Wisconsin Court of Appeals recently vacated a $1.5 million judgment against Pneumo Abex LLC.
Here are the details:
The daughter of John Pender, a crane worker who died from mesothelioma, alleged he was exposed to asbestos in brake shoes made by Abex. For 41 years, Pender worked as a painter and glass setter for a company that made cranes. He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in May 2006 and died later that month.
His daughter sued a number of companies that supplied asbestos-containing products to his employer. Key evidence in the case included testimony from a former co-worker and invoices for Abex brake shoes.
The former co-worker, who installed brake shoes in the cranes, testified that his job involved grinding the shoes. The process left the cranes covered in grease and dust from the shoes.
Pender cleaned the residue off of the cranes before painting them. The invoices submitted in the case showed that Abex supplied brake shoes to Pender’s employer while he worked there.
A jury awarded almost $1.5 million to Pender’s family, and Abex appealed.
The Appeals Court held that there was no evidence that the brake shoes were used in the building where Pender worked. Abex was one of at least seven vendors who sold brake shoes to the crane company.
Further, the company had several plants, but none of the evidence or testimony presented placed the shoes in the building where Pender worked. According to the court, the evidence presented at trial was not enough to take the plaintiff’s claims “out of the realm of speculation and conjecture.”
This case is significant because it highlights some types of evidence that can be used in an asbestos case. Presenting Pender’s case involved digging through his employer’s records and getting testimony from a former co-worker. This evidence successfully persuaded jury.
Unfortunately for the plaintiff, the appeals court found that more evidence was needed to reasonably infer that Pender was exposed to asbestos from Abex’s brake shoes.
The appeals court distinguished this case from another asbestos case, Zielinski v, A.P. Green Indus. Inc., 611 N.W. 2d 659 (2000). In that case, the court held that there was enough evidence to infer that the plaintiff had been exposed to the defendant’s asbestos-laden product.
Zielinski also provided evidence that the product had been purchased from the defendant and testimony from a witness at the plant. However, in that case, there was sufficient evidence that the product had been purchased for use in the plant where the plaintiff worked.
Tracing asbestos exposure can be challenging. Evidence from co-workers and vendor records may help strengthen a case.
In some instances, courts may infer that the plaintiff’s injury was caused by exposure to the defendant’s product. Evidence that the worker was present at the time and in the place where the defendant supplied asbestos-laden products can be persuasive.
But as the Abex case suggests, there may be limits to how much a jury will be allowed to infer from the evidence.
Each state’s laws and the facts of each case differ. So be sure to talk to an experienced mesothelioma lawyer about your specific case.