In a case brought by William P. Aubin, a worker who inhaled dust on a construction site in the 1970s, the Florida Supreme Court said recently that asbestos supplier Union Carbide Corp. should pay $6.6 million because the worker ultimately developed a terminal disease. The ruling by the Supreme Court overturned a decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which rejected a jury verdict for Aubin, who was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma, a type of cancer of the lining of the abdomen. There was a tremendous amount of interest in the appeal from business and legal groups. Americus (friend-of-the court) briefs were filed on behalf of organizations including the Florida Justice Association, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America and the Pacific Legal Foundation.
The Supreme Court ruling focused on a series of issues, including whether the worker presented evidence that defective design of a Union Carbide asbestos product caused him to contract the disease and whether the trial jury was given incomplete instructions. The jury-instruction issue involved Union Carbide’s responsibility to warn end-users about the dangers of its asbestos product, which went into manufactured goods such as joint compounds and texture sprays.
The Miami-Dade County jury returned a nearly $14.2 million verdict for the worker, with Union Carbide responsible for about $6.6 million and other companies liable for the remainder. The Supreme Court opinion, written by Justice Barbara Pariente, reinstated the Union Carbide judgment. The opinion said:
Our review of the record demonstrates that the trial court correctly refused to direct a verdict for Union Carbide on its design defect claim because Aubin did in fact present sufficient evidence on causation to allow this claim to be considered by the jury. In applying the correct standard for causation, Aubin was merely required to show that the defective design of the (Union Carbide asbestos product) directly and in natural and continuous sequence produced or contributed substantially to producing Aubin’s mesothelioma, so that it can reasonably be said that, but for the defect, the injury would not have occurred.
But Justice Ricky Polston, in a dissent, wrote that Union Carbide was entitled to a new trial because of inadequate jury instructions. Justice Polston wrote that the circuit judge failed to inform the jury about what is known as a “learned intermediary defense,” which involves relying on manufacturers of the end-products to warn users of potential dangers. “In so doing, the trial court improperly permitted the jury to find Union Carbide liable simply because Union Carbide did not directly warn Aubin about the dangers of asbestos,” Justice Polston wrote.
The majority opinion said the worker oversaw construction of a Sarasota residential development from 1972 to 1974 and inhaled dust created by the sanding and sweeping of drywall joint compounds and spraying of ceiling texture sprays. It was stated in the prevailing opinion:
Aubin did not know that these joint compounds and texture sprays contained asbestos and thus did not know that he was inhaling asbestos fibers. In 2008, Aubin was diagnosed with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, which is a fatal, incurable form of cancer in the lining of the abdomen.
This appears to be a sound and well-researched opinion. It definitely places blame where it should fall. It’s difficult to comprehend how corporate bosses could allow their works to be put at risk when you consider that the hazards and dangers associated with asbestos were know to them for years.
Source: News Service of Florida
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