Recently, the Maryland Supreme Court ruled that an expert may testify that “every exposure to asbestos is a substantial contributing cause” of mesothelioma in Dixon v. Ford Motor Co., 433 Md. 137 (2013).
At the trial of this Dixon lawsuit it was alleged that a woman who died of malignant mesothelioma was exposed to asbestos by two means, one direct and one indirect (or so-called “secondhand exposure”). First, the plaintiff claimed that the decedent’s husband used a drywall joint compound allegedly manufactured by Georgia-Pacific in a repair project at their home. In addition, plaintiff contended that the husband, an automobile mechanic, brought asbestos-laden dust home with him on his clothes, which the wife laundered, after working almost exclusively on Ford automotive brakes for many years.
During this Maryland asbestos-mesothelioma trial the jury heard plaintiff’s expert testify to the effect that, even though the deceased wife may have been exposed to asbestos from a drywall joint compound during her husband’s home repair project, it was the Ford brake dust that he brought home on his clothes and which the wife washed that was a cause of her asbestos-related cancer, also, because “every exposure to asbestos is a substantial contributing cause” of mesothelioma.
On the initial appeal, this “every exposure” theory was rejected by the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, which vacated a $3 million judgment awarded to the plaintiff. Essentially, this first appellate court concluded that plaintiff’s expert failed to quantify the probability of causation or provide a meaningful assessment of the risk imparted by the exposure at issue. Dixon v. Ford Motor Co., No. 536 (Md. Ct. Spec. App., June 29, 2012)
Next, the Maryland Court of Appeals reversed the Maryland Court of Special Appeals court, holding that this first appellate court had improperly ignored the context within which the plaintiff’s expert had provided the “every exposure” testimony. In more detail, this expert’s opinion was based on evidence that asbestos dust was brought into the home by the husband twice a week for 13 years, and that the repeated exposure was “high-intensity” because asbestos fibers would remain in the home for an extended period.
Lastly — recognizing that with this factual background and context, in fact, the expert’s causation testimony was not a “novel”, or unreliable scientific theory that should be disregarded — the Maryland Supreme Court ruled that the “every exposure to asbestos is a substantial contributing cause” theory can be used by an expert in an asbestos-mesothelioma lawsuit such as the Dixon case in Maryland.
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