The Appellate Court of Illinois, First District, recently affirmed a $1.5 million jury verdict in favor of plaintiffs in Zickuhr v. Ericsson, Inc., Case No. 1-10-3430. The Court ruled that the trial court correctly (1) ruled that the plaintiffs did not have to show the exact quantity of asbestos fibers the decedent was exposed to and (2) barred the defendant from introducing evidence that the defendant was in compliance with OSHA regulations.
Plaintiffs Richard Campbell (the decedent) and his wife Florence Campbell brought this negligence action against Ericsson, claiming that the decedent developed mesothelioma from exposure to asbestos-containing electrical cable manufactured by the defendant. Plaintiffs alleged that the decedent worked at U.S. Steel’s South Works plant in Chicago, where he cut and stripped the electrical cables. Although plaintiffs had sued other defendants, the other defendants settled, leaving Ericsson the only remaining defendant at trial. After the $1.5 million jury verdict, the trial court reduced the award to $560,000 to give Ericsson credit for the settlements of the other defendants. Ericsson appealed.
The Appellate Court affirmed the jury’s verdict and the trial court’s judgment. In its written opinion, the Court rejected the theory of the defense attorney that the quantity of asbestos fibers released from the stripped cable produced a small amount of asbestos dust that could not cause mesothelioma. The Court found that “because of the problems associated with proving one’s present condition was caused by past exposure to a product, Illinois courts have not required a finding of the exact quantity of asbestos fibers a decedent was exposed to.” Instead, an asbestos plaintiff must show “the frequency of the use of the product and the regularity or extent of the plaintiff’s employment in proximity thereto.” The Court found that the evidence–including testimony that the decedent’s work environment meant that dust from the cable shredding would cover him from head to toe–was sufficient to meet this standard.
The Appellate Court affirmed the trial court’s decision to bar the defendant from introducing evidence that the defendant was in compliance with OSHA asbestos regulations. The defendant argued that it should have been able to show that any asbestos fiber released was within permissible exposure limits. The Appellate Court ruled that OSHA asbestos regulations only govern employer-employee relationships (for example, the decedent and his employer, U.S. Steel). Because the OSHA asbestos regulations did not apply to the manufacturer (i.e., the defendant Ericsson), evidence of the regulations was irrelevant and properly excluded by the trial court.
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