Our View: Texas Supreme Court clarifies standards for asbestos liability

By The SE Texas Record | Jul 22, 2014

To hold a manufacturer liable for a disease attributed to asbestos exposure, a court should require plaintiffs to show how the exposure was substantial enough to cause the disease and how products made by the company in question were indeed the source of that exposure. 

That’s the opinion of our state Supreme Court, and we concur.

Timothy Shawn Bostic was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2002, at the age of 40, and died the following year. His relatives filed suit against Georgia-Pacific and other makers of asbestos products, whom they blamed for Bostic’s death.

Finding Georgia-Pacific 75% liable, the jury awarded nearly $12 million in compensatory and punitive damages. The court of appeals found the evidence of causation insufficient, however, and rendered a take-nothing judgment.

The Texas Supreme Court recently upheld the appeals court decision, affirming that “in all asbestos cases involving multiple sources of exposure, including mesothelioma cases, the standards for proof of causation in fact are the same.”

Specifically, the Court held  that “proof of ‘any exposure’ to a defendant’s product will not suffice,” that “the dose must be quantified,” that “the plaintiff must establish that the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s disease,” and that, “in the absence of direct evidence of causation, the plaintiff must prove with scientifically reliable expert testimony that the plaintiff’s exposure to the defendant’s product more than doubled the plaintiff’s risk of contracting the disease.”

Applying these principles, the Court concluded that “the causation evidence was legally insufficient to uphold the verdict. Proof of substantial factor causation requires some quantification of the dose resulting from Bostic’s exposure to Georgia-Pacific’s products,” the majority decision affirmed.

“Plaintiffs did not establish even an approximate dose,” the Court noted. “Instead, the expert testimony was to the effect that any exposure was sufficient to establish causation….”

This is a soundly argued, reasonable decision. Persons and companies should pay for damage they cause, but only after responsibility has been established.

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