Proving causation in product liability cases

When North Carolinians develop a disease, such as mesothelioma from asbestos exposure, they may bring a product liability case. Product liability cases may be based on strict liability, negligence or breach of warranty. Strict liability requires the claimant to show that the product had an unreasonably dangerous defect in its design or manufacturing process that the claimant used the product in the way it was intended to be used, and no changes were made to the product from its original state when sold.

Negligence or breach of warranty theories require claimants to show that the defendant owed them a legal duty of care. They breached that duty of care, and their injuries were caused by the product, which resulted in damages.

Causation is often the most difficult element to prove in product liability cases because the link between the illness and the product can become flimsy over time. Diseases, such as mesothelioma, often take many years to surface.

Asbestos companies will often argue that the claimant’s disease was caused by factors other than their products. While most statute of limitations are less than 10 years, many states, including North Carolina, have statutes of limitations for asbestos-related diseases that begin after the disease was diagnosed, rather than when the exposure occurred. Compensation may be obtained from the manufacturer, the company, the company’s insurance company or from asbestos trust funds.

Even if a company has declared bankruptcy, victims may still recover from asbestos trust funds. Claimants must generally show that the company’s asbestos-containing products caused their disease. Depending on the severity of the disease and the amount of money available in the trust, victims may receive a percentage of their claim to help cover the costs associated with their illness.