Product Liability -- 2017

Juni v. A.O. Smith Water Prods. Co.   (N.Y. App. Div.)

Opposing any exposure theory of causation in asbestos case

The NAM filed a joint amicus brief, along with the Coalition for Litigation Justice, the Chamber of Commerce, and the Business Council of New York, in this case, urging the court to uphold the district court’s rejection of the plaintiff’s cumulative exposure theory, otherwise known as the "any exposure" theory, which has been often rejected.

Plaintiff argued that mechanics who worked with brakes, clutches and gaskets, as well as their family members, suffered harm because these contain small amounts of chrysotile asbestos. The trial court rejected that any amount of exposure was enough to relieve the plaintiff of having to prove causation or harm. Rather, it found that plaintiff would have to show that the amount the worker was exposed to was enough to cause the harm.

We argued that dose assessment is critical to all toxins, including asbestos, and that zero exposure is not necessary to protect against asbestos diseases. In addition we pointed out that the trial court’s decision was consistent with many other courts, state and federal, and that the court was correct in finding that the plaintiff did not meet the requirements to show adequate evidence of causation. Finally, we highlighted the trial court’s arguments that the plaintiff’s causation theory was illogical and unscientific because it is not sufficient to rely on the general proposition that asbestos causes mesothelioma, that risk is not a substitute for competent causation testimony, that experts should not be relieved of causation proof because dust was present, that experts cannot rely on governmental publication about ‘no-safe dose’ in lieu of actual proof of causation, and that the plaintiff’s experts cannot credibly discount epidemiology studies of mechanics.

The plaintiff filed a response brief to our amicus brief and asked the court to reject our brief. The plaintiff's lengthy brief attacked our amicus brief and claimed it was "irresponsible" and full of "misstatements." We filed a reply to plaintiff's brief, and we used facts to rebut the plaintiff's unusual attack. In our reply, we provided the court with scientific evidence and the experts' actual testimony to rebut the unsupported claims of the plaintiff. Plaintiff's response brief did not address the central issues in the case and made arguments that would carve out a large exception to the leading case law. We urged the court to uphold well-reasoned law and the science, and reject plaintiff's arguments.

The court ruled in our favor and held that proof of exposure must be established. This is a significant ruling because this NY court makes it difficult for manufacturers and other businesses to prevail. In any other type of litigation, the idea that you have to show causation would be obvious, but, for asbestos lawsuits, this is huge.

Related Documents:
NAM reply brief  (July 15, 2016)
NAM amicus brief  (March 30, 2016)


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