|July 24, 2014|
Previously published on July 18, 2014
The Supreme Court of Texas held last week that the standard of substantial factor causation previously recognized by the court in asbestosis cases also applies to mesothelioma cases. The case involved claims by the estate of a 40-year old individual who died from mesothelioma against 40 defendants based on asbestos exposure. In 2006, a jury awarded the estate $6.8 million in compensatory damages and $4.8 million in punitive damages. The court of appeals, however, found the evidence of causation to be legally insufficient and rendered a take-nothing judgment.
The Supreme Court of Texas agreed with the court of appeals. The court concluded that in mesothelioma cases, for a plaintiff to establish causation in fact, the plaintiff must prove that the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in causing the disease, and mere proof that the plaintiff was exposed to “some” respirable fibers traceable to the defendant was insufficient. In other words, proof of “some exposure” or “any exposure” is not enough. Otherwise, any company whose asbestos-containing product crossed paths with any individual at any time would face absolute liability. The court went on to hold that in the absence of direct proof of causation, establishing causation in fact against a defendant in an asbestos-related case requires scientifically reliable proof that the plaintiff’s exposure more than doubled the risk of contracting the disease.
Although the Supreme Court agreed with the result reached by the court of appeals, the Supreme Court explained that the court of appeals improperly reasoned that the plaintiffs were required to prove that but for the decedent’s exposure to a defendant’s asbestos-containing product, he would not have contracted mesothelioma.