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Court rules that 5-day exposure could be cause of asbestosis

Most victims of asbestos-caused illnesses in North Carolina and elsewhere have been exposed to the mineral over a span of many years, and many juries have awarded damages for such exposure. In a remarkable ruling, a Louisiana appellate court has now ruled that five days of intense asbestos product exposure may have been a "substantial contributing factor" to the development of plaintiff's asbestosis.

The plaintiff testified at trial that he contracted asbestosis while employed in various jobs from 1953 to 2006. He further testified that in the late 1970s or early 1980s, he was employed for five days as a pipefitter at a Goodrich plant in Louisiana. During this five-day period, the plaintiff was responsible for removing and installing asbestos-containing products, including gaskets. The plaintiff also testified that he worked in close proximity to insulation installers who were installing and removing asbestos-containing insulation. The trial court dismissed the claim against Goodrich, ruling that the exposure to asbestos for only five days could not have been a substantial contributing factor to his asbestosis.

The appellate court reversed, ruling that the plaintiff had at least created a material issue of fact about whether exposure over only five days can be a substantial contributing factor to plaintiff's illness. Plaintiff's case was helped by the testimony of two experts who said that any exposure above "contemporary occupational limits" should be considered a substantial cause of the disease.

The case will now go to trial, and plaintiff will be required to prove by a preponderance of the evidence that the five-day exposure at the Goodrich plant was a contributing cause of his illness. The case represents a clear victory for asbestos claimants because it focuses on the intensity of the plaintiff's exposure, rather than merely the duration. In other words, a plaintiff who can prove a significant degree of exposure has a claim, regardless of the length of the exposure.

Source: Louisiana Record, "Five-day asbestos exposure could have been substantial cause of asbestosis, La. appeals court rules," Heather Gvillo, Dec. 30, 2014

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