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Evidence in Asbestosis Claim Failed to Meet California Minimums for Plausibility

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Los Angeles, CAWhile some might characterize it as a case of legal hair-splitting, a California appeals court nonetheless upheld state legal statutes and affirmed a lower court’s ruling in granting summary judgement to the defendant in an asbestosis lawsuit. The ruling was based on grounds that the plaintiff was unable to prove exposure, or probability of exposure, to asbestos.

In California, according to the court, it’s not enough to suggest a ‘potential’ exposure to asbestos. Rather a ‘likely’ or ‘probable’ exposure is required, and recognized by courts in California.

According to court documents there was no shortage of evidence and expert testimony supplied by the plaintiff to support his case. Billy S. Johnson, the plaintiff, asserted in his asbestosis lawsuit that he was exposed to asbestos when he visited his father at his dad’s job site, and when his father wore his work clothes home. Previous lawsuits have asserted that asbestos fibers piggybacking on work uniforms have sickened family members, including spouses tasked with doing the laundry.

In his California asbestosis claim, Johnson noted his father was employed by Bekins Van Lines, where he serviced their trucks – including the repair, replacement and maintenance of brake systems. Johnson asserted that co-defendant ArvinMeritor manufactured and sold brake linings containing asbestos to International, one of the suppliers of trucks to Bekins. Carlisle Motion Control Industries Inc., another defendant, was one of three or four suppliers to International.

Johnson alleges in his asbestos compensation lawsuit that he developed asbestosis lung disease and also carries an increased risk for developing more serious forms of asbestosis disease, including mesothelioma, because the parts his father used in servicing trucks contained asbestos, or so it was alleged. The plaintiff asserts this as the basis of his exposure, while at the job site visiting, or through asbestos fibers brought home on his father’s work clothes.

The appellate court, in affirming the lower court’s ruling of summary judgement, noted that the plaintiff, in the court’s view, produced no evidence to support an inference that the replacement brake linings his father actually handled were probably supplied by one of the defendants, amongst other evidence supplied by the plaintiff.

In the end the court found that, at best, evidence and expert testimony supplied by the plaintiff established the possibility that plaintiff’s father was exposed to asbestos from a defendant’s product – and therefore exposure to the plaintiff – but went no further.

In California, ‘possibility’ of exposure is insufficient to withstand summary judgment. Plaintiff must produce evidence showing a probability, or likelihood of exposure, according to the court.

The asbestosis lawsuit is Billy S. Johnson v. ArvinMeritor, et al., Case No. A131975 (Cal. Ct. App. February 2, 2017), in the California Court of Appeal.


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