SW Legal studies in Business

Jury Finds Some Fault in Asbestos Maker, But No Negligence to Impose Liability
Description Appeals court upheld a jury verdict in favor of an asbestos manufacturer. The jury held that while the company knew there were dangers associated with asbestos, at the time it sold the product it was not negligent for failure to warn of the hazards because it did not believe the product, as used, was dangerous.
Topic Torts
Key Words Products Liability; Asbestos; Evidence; Degree of Fault
C A S E   S U M M A R Y
Facts Kasun worked as an insulator from 1948 to 1984, during which time he was exposed to asbestos, including a pipe-insulation material made by Owens-Illinois (O-I) until 1958. In 1998, Kasun was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a type of cancer associated with exposure to asbestos. He and his wife sued O-I, claiming negligence and strict liability, for the asbestos products it made and sold. Kasun alleged that O-I failed to adequately warn him of the health hazards of asbestos. I-O conceded the dangers that are now known, but defended that based on the evidence at that time it was believed that the asbestos in its products were not believed to be dangerous, so there was no duty to warn. In a 55 question verdict form given to the jury, the jury said that I-O knew or should have known about the dangers of asbestos, but said that I-O was not negligent for failure to warn. It allocated the fault for Kasun's disease as 0% to Kasun and 10% to I-O; other percentages were allocated to other asbestos makers not included at trial because they were bankrupt or had settled. Based on that allocation of fault; the trial judge dismissed the suit. Kasun appealed.
Decision

Affirmed. The jury could reasonably conclude that although I-O knew there were hazards associated with asbestos that, at the time it sold the product, it believed that it was safe to be handled. As such, it could find the company not to have been negligent and so not liable for damages to Kasun.

Citation Kasun v. Owens-Illinois, Inc., N.W.2d (2001 WL 942588 (Ct. App., Wisc., 2001)

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