IL Appellate Court Reverses $3.2 Million Asbestos Verdict Based on Insufficient Evidence of Causation

The Illinois Fourth District Appellate Court recently reversed a $3.2 million asbestos jury verdict entered against a roofing material manufacturer. [1] In Krumwiede v. Tremco, the court found that the plaintiff presented insufficient evidence of causation, entitling Tremco, Inc. (“Tremco”) to a judgment notwithstanding the verdict.

Decedent Willard Krumwiede worked as a window glazier, installing glass into wood or aluminum frames, from the 1950s until his retirement in the early 1990s. While working as a window glazier, Decedent used asbestos-containing tape and caulk manufactured by Tremco.

A jury in McLean County, Illinois, returned a Plaintiff’s verdict in 2013 based largely on Decedent’s testimony. In March 2018, Tremco filed a post-trial motion seeking a judgment notwithstanding the verdict or a new trial.

Tremco’s appeal sought to overturn the verdict on the basis that the plaintiff had failed to satisfy the Illinois standard for proving causation. Tremco argued that the plaintiff had presented no competent or admissible evidence that a Tremco product released breathable asbestos fibers. Tremco further argued that even if the products released breathable asbestos fibers, the plaintiff presented no competent evidence that Decedent had been exposed to those fibers with “such frequency, regularity and proximity,”[2] that the products could be viewed as a substantial factor in causing his mesothelioma.

The appellate court accepted that the products at issue were capable of releasing breathable asbestos fibers. However, the court determined that “the evidence was otherwise lacking with respect to the element of substantial factor causation.”[3] “There was no evidence in the record showing “when, and under what circumstances, respirable asbestos fibers were the type that would have been regularly encountered by decedent when using Tremco’s products, or whether the release of fibers from Tremco’s products was anything more than minimal.”[4]

Plaintiff argued on appeal that proving causation did not require a plaintiff to quantify the number of asbestos fibers a decedent was exposed to. Although the court agreed with that notion, it further noted that a plaintiff must show more than de minimis exposure.[5] The plaintiff must establish that the activities engaged in by the decedent when working with the defendant’s products caused the release of breathable asbestos fibers, or “that the products released asbestos fibers in such amounts that the decedent had more than de minimis, casual, or ‘minimum’ contact with asbestos from [defendant’s] products.”[6]

This is not the first time the Fourth District has reversed the Circuit Court of McLean County in an asbestos lawsuit.[7] The implications of this verdict provide a positive development for Illinois defendants in asbestos litigation, as the appellate court’s decision bolsters the Illinois causation standard and reinforces the idea that a plaintiff cannot meet the burden of proving causation by merely establishing that a defendant’s product released breathable asbestos fibers.

For more information about the Court’s decision in Krumwiede or other recent developments in Illinois, you can email Brooke Thompson (bthompson@cookgrouplegal.com) or Managing Partner Joe Hargraves (jhargraves@cookgrouplegal.com) in The Cook Group’s office in St. Louis, MO.

By Brooke Thompson – Associate – St. Louis

 

[1]  Krumwiede v. Tremco, Inc., 2020 IL App (4th) 180434.
[2]  Id. at 19.
[3] Id. at 26.
[4] Id.
[5] Id. at 28.
[6] Id. at 28-9.
[7] See McKinney v. Hobart Brothers Co., 2018 IL App (4th) 170333, 127 N.E.3d 17.

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