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Recent Pennsylvania Case Addresses Asbestos Civil Suit Requirements

While asbestos is no longer used as popular insulating material, its presence in Pennsylvania and across America is still felt.  A once-popular mineral used for its sound absorption, strength, and resistance to fire, it is now synonymous with serious and fatal illnesses, including asbestosis and mesothelioma.  The fibrous make-up of the substance makes it impossible to escape the lungs once it is inhaled, and it can take decades to reveal itself.  Since it is a highly dangerous material, Pennsylvania’s Department of Labor and Industry lists the regulations in place for asbestos removal.

Litigation for claims and damages have stretched over several decades as new cases of cancer and illness fall upon the exposed individuals.  As a result, special funds have been created and specific litigation procedures made in an attempt to compensate those who have suffered injury or death as a result of asbestos exposure.  The Superior Court of Pennsylvania recently published Krauss v. Trane US Inc., regarding some of these asbestos-specific legal procedures.

The deceased bricklayer worked at many job sites throughout the Southeast United States.  His estate claimed that he was exposed to asbestos at many job sites by interacting with several products that contained asbestos.  The estate attributed the mesothelioma to the asbestos that landed on his clothes and hair and that was eventually breathed into his lungs.  Several of these companies were made a party to the suit.  Motions for summary judgment were made by all the defendant companies, which were granted by the lower court. 

The court established that there is a summary judgment standard specific to asbestos cases.  The injured party must not only show that the asbestos illnesses were caused by the manufacturer or supplier of the asbestos product, but that he or she inhaled the fibers shed by the specific manufacturer’s product. One must not just allege that asbestos was present in the workplace but that the injured party was in regular proximity to the product’s use.  Pennsylvania case law refined this expectation to mean that the injured party does not have to absolutely prove in the initial proceedings that there was exposure, but that the history of contact shows a sufficiently significant likelihood of exposure beyond casual or minimal contact.

Addressing one summary judgment, the Court noted that the evidence against one company was based solely on a co-worker’s recollection 25-30 years after working on-site and not on actual proof of asbestos in the machines alleged to contain asbestos.  The court stated that a co-worker, or lay witness, would not necessarily have the expertise needed to qualify his or her opinion.  If the witness does have this knowledge,his or her experience and knowledge must be demonstrated within his or her statement.  The Court reasoned that the summary judgment standard was set to avoid suits based on speculation and conjecture.

The illnesses caused by asbestos are costly and painful.  While unfortunately well-tread, the road to recovering for asbestos injuries is long and complicated.  The medical malpractice and wrongful death attorneys at Needle Law Firm have the legal expertise and knowledge you need to guide you through your case.  For a free, confidential consultation, contact our office at 570-344-1266.

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