If Trace-Asbestos Products Cause Comparable Exposure to What’s in the Natural Environment, Are Companies Liable?

Although asbestos has been a known carcinogen leading to mesothelioma and other conditions for decades, it has existed in multiple places, forms and concentrations, and scientists are unable to track the onset of such diseases to a specific root cause. Consequently, plaintiff lawyers often bring lawsuits against multiple parties and once and have succeeded in their attempts to bring these cases to trial by only needing to prove some degree of exposure to any given product containing asbestos, not that the certain product led to their injury, a theory called cumulative exposure. With the main asbestos culprits often having long gone bankrupt, plaintiffs have increasingly looked to find fault with second- and third-wave parties, for example auto-manufacturers whose older vehicles may have used brakes containing minute traces of asbestos. However, a January decision from the Ohio Supreme Court, based on the state’s product liability statute, is giving hope to such defendants. The court ruled that the injured must prove each product caused exposure beyond the amount of asbestos that is found in the naturally-occurring environment. “This decision is one of the most recent opportunities to develop the argument that limits the liability trace-asbestos products face as a matter of law,” says Cort Sylvester, an attorney at Nilan Johnson Lewis who was been working on product liability cases for over 25 years. In states like Ohio, where product liability statutes require proof of injury by each product, judges are now more likely to screen out weaker cases in the motion phase before they go to trial on the basis of these low dose exposures not being causal.” For insights and questions regarding asbestos exposure or other product liability litigation, contact Cort Sylvester at 612.305.7526 or csylvester@nilanjohnson.com.

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