The Texas Supreme Court recently issued a landmark decision that may have a considerable impact on asbestos-related lawsuits. The Court found that the principle of "every exposure" is not sufficient to establish liability of a defendant in an asbestos lawsuit. This means that plaintiffs cannot simply rely on general proof of exposure to hold defendants liable for mesothelioma or other asbestos diseases that are directly related to the amount and duration of exposure.
In the initial case filing, Bostic v. Georgia-Pacific, the plaintiffs alleged negligence and product liability in the development of mesothelioma and resulting death of the decedent. According to the complaint, the decedent was exposed to asbestos from various sources from the 1960s through the mid-1980s, from personally working with asbestos products like Georgia Pacific drywall joint compound, asbestos cloth at Knox Glass, and brake pads and other vehicle parts at Palestine Contractors, as well as secondary exposure from his father's clothing, who worked at Knox Glass.
The decedent was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age 40 in 2002, and died as a result of his condition in 2003. His family then filed a lawsuit against Georgia Pacific and other defendants. The case went to trial in 2006, with the jury ruling in favor of the plaintiffs and awarding about $6.8 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 million in punitive damages.
Georgia Pacific appealed the decision with the Texas Court of Appeals, which found in the defendants' favor. The Appeals Court concluded that the evidence brought by the plaintiffs was insufficient to establish the defendants' fault.
The plaintiffs then appealed to the Texas Supreme Court, which upheld the decision made by the Appeals Court.
The Texas Supreme Court held that the plaintiffs had failed to establish sufficient evidence of causation. The Court held that the plaintiffs needed to establish defendant-specific evidence of the approximate exposure dose and how this dose played a substantial role in causing the decedent's medical condition. According to the Court, the amount of exposure must be sufficient enough to establish causation. Simply proving "any exposure" or "every exposure" was not enough to hold the defendants liable in this case, which involved a dose-related disease like mesothelioma. Further, the Court held that proof of exposure alone was not sufficient to hold the defendants liable. Additional proof would be necessary, based on a preponderance of evidence, of the extent of exposure that would have been the primary cause of the decedent's condition.
This decision may prove to influence future asbestos litigation in Texas and across the U.S., primarily related to the evidence of exposure required to hold asbestos manufacturers and other defendants accountable for mesothelioma, asbestosis, lung cancer and other asbestos-related diseases.
Asbestos exposure is now known to cause these deadly diseases, but prior to the 1970s it was not widely regulated in the U.S. Today, asbestos is recognized as a carcinogen (cancer-causing substance) and is closely regulated. Lawsuits continue to arise, however, because of the long latency period of asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma may not develop for as many as 50 years after initial exposure, or longer in some cases.
If you would like to learn more about asbestos litigation and your rights if you have a history of asbestos exposure, now is the time to talk to a Houston personal injury lawyer at The Daspit Law Firm. These are complex matters, but our team has the resources and experience to seek successful results on our clients' behalf. To get started, call for a free consultation and case review.