Court: United States District Court for the Western District of Washington
Case Name: Jack v. Borg-Warner Morse TEC LLC
Citation: 2018 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 135424
The plaintiffs claimed that decedent was exposed to asbestos while using various products containing asbestos which were supplied and manufactured by the defendants. It was alleged that as a result of this exposure, the descendant developed mesothelioma which ultimately caused his death. The plaintiffs claimed that the descendant had been exposed to asbestos over the period of 1954-2001 while he worked as a machinist for the Navy, a machinist at a shipyard, and later a mechanic.
The plaintiffs brought various negligence and product liability claims and sought punitive and compensatory damages. Both parties relied on various experts to support their case, ranging from medical causation experts to asbestos experts. The defendants brought several motions to exclude several of the plaintiffs’ witnesses, including the plaintiff’s asbestos expert witness.
The plaintiff’s expert held a bachelor’s degree in chemical engineering, a master’s degree in environmental engineering, and a doctorate in health policy. The expert worked in the field of environmental and occupational health policy with a focus on “recognition of risk factors and prevention of disease from industrial activities.” He had over 40 years of experience analyzing environmental and occupational health problems, including asbestos. He had also authored a book on the medical and legal issues surrounding asbestos, which had been cited by several courts, including the Supreme Court.
In his report, the asbestos expert reviewed the medical literature on the relation among asbestos, lung cancer, and mesothelioma going back to the 1800s. He primarily focused on exposure to asbestos in the automotive industry, focusing on gaskets, brakes, and clutches. He opined that it had been established by the 1940s that inhaling asbestos could cause lung cancer, while its relationship with mesothelioma was a subject of intense discussion by the 1960s.
The defendants contended that the plaintiff expert’s opinion was inadmissible because he was not qualified to opine on scientific and medical literature. They argued that in the absence of such qualification, he could only have speculated on the knowledge the defendants had at the time. The plaintiffs argued that the expert had only done a historical analysis of the knowledge related to asbestos and the diseases associated with it and that his opinion contained no review of medical literature.
The court found the plaintiff’s asbestos expert witness suitably qualified to opine on the issues at hand. He had conducted a historical analysis of the literature on asbestos, a subject on which he had written a highly successful book, and he could be considered a foremost expert in his field. The court noted that the asbestos expert witness possessed specialized knowledge regarding the availability of asbestos literature which would assist the jury in understanding the state of the art with respect to asbestos given the volume of data available on this topic (citing Krik v. Crane Co., 71 F. Supp. 3d 784, 787 (N.D. Ill. 2014) and Waite v. All Acquisition Corp., 194 F. Supp. 3d 1298, 1310-11 (S.D. Fla. 2016), concluding that the expert satisfied the relatively low burden of being qualified to testify).
The court then discussed the relevance of the expert’s testimony. It was noted that even though the plaintiffs’ asbestos expert would not testify about what any specific defendant knew, his testimony could provide context and grounding scientific information integral to the determination of this case.
The court also noted that because the plaintiffs had brought both strict liability and negligence claims, “evidence of historical, medical, and scientific knowledge about the dangers of asbestos . . . may be considered by the trier of fact”, citing Crittenden v. Fibreboard Corp., 58 Wn. App. 649, 794 P.2d 554, 559 (Wash. Ct. App. 1990). The court was of the opinion that it would assist the trier of fact in finding what the defendants knew or should have known at the time based on the available literature on asbestos inhalation.
The court held that the asbestos expert’s testimony was admissible because he was qualified to testify according to the limitations set by the plaintiffs and because his testimony was deemed relevant.