Plaintiffs Assert Circumstantial Evidence to Support Maryland Asbestos Lawsuit

Exposure to asbestos-containing products is associated with serious illnesses such as mesothelioma and asbestosis, particularly in people who have had occupational exposure.  In a November 20, 2017 wrongful death action before the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland, the issue was whether the plaintiffs had produced sufficient evidence to create a question of fact for a jury to decide.  After the trial court had granted a summary judgment motion in favor of the defendants, the plaintiffs appealed.

The decedent in the case had worked at a shipyard for many years as a machinist and mechanic.  His duties frequently involved removing and replacing insulation, which often contained asbestos, on large commercial and military ships.  The decedent filed a complaint in 2004 against the defendants, an asbestos company and an asbestos settlement trust.  When he passed away in 2013, the case was amended to include a survival action claim and a wrongful death claim on behalf of his spouse and son.

The plaintiffs did not present direct evidence of the particular insulation companies that worked closely with the decedent.  They relied on the inference that the sheer number of ships on which the decedent had worked in close proximity to employees with known exposure to asbestos dust, combined with evidence that the defendants had a presence at the shipyard, was sufficient to allow the case to survive a summary judgment motion.

In an asbestos case, a plaintiff must show that his or her exposure to the asbestos-containing product was a substantial causative factor in the development of his or her illness. Although the decedent worked in close proximity to insulation contractors and was in the vicinity of where such products were used, he did not himself perform insulation work, nor did he work directly with the asbestos products.

Whether the exposure of a bystander to a particular supplier’s product is sufficient to infer substantial-factor causation depends on the relationship between the use of the defendant’s product at the workplace and the activities of the plaintiff at the workplace.  The factors to be evaluated include the nature of the product, the frequency of its use, the proximity, in distance and in time, of a plaintiff to the use of a product, and the regularity of the exposure of that plaintiff to the use of that product.  Accordingly, the plaintiffs in the case had the burden to prove that the decedent was actually exposed to the defendant’s asbestos product and that the exposure was regular, proximate, and frequent.

On appeal, the court ultimately agreed that the plaintiffs had failed to present sufficient evidence to establish that the decedent was actually exposed to these particular defendants’ asbestos-containing products.  The testimony of the decedent’s co-worker was unclear as to whether the decedent had worked on the same ships on which the defendants had performed work, and there was no evidence linking the defendants to the ships that the co-worker stated the decedent had repaired.  The court pointed out that, although it is possible for circumstantial evidence to sufficiently establish causation, in the case at hand, the plaintiffs had failed to do so.  The summary judgment was therefore affirmed in favor of the defendants.

The Maryland injury attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. can provide compassionate and candid legal advice regarding a wrongful death lawsuit. We are experienced in litigation arising out of negligence, medical malpractice, car and truck collisions, and other accidents.  Explore your options with one of our dedicated lawyers by calling Foran & Foran, P.A. at (301) 441-2022 or contacting us online to schedule an appointment.

More Blog Posts:

Maryland Plaintiffs May Bring Wrongful Death Action Despite Successful Personal Injury Claim of Decedent, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published August 15, 2016

Maryland Court Rules for Plaintiff in Wrongful Death Appeal Regarding Venue, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published April 25, 2017

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