Florida Supreme Court Reinstates Jury Verdict in Favor of Construction Worker with Asbestos

The Florida Supreme Court overturned a state district court of appeals decision that reversed a jury verdict in favor of a sick construction worker in the recently published decision of Aubin vs. Union Carbide Corp. (No. SC12-2075). The construction worker inhaled respirable dust from the sanding and sweeping of a drywall compound and spraying of ceiling texture sprays between 1972 and 1974.

He was not aware that these compounds had asbestos until he was diagnosed in 2008 with malignant peritoneal mesothelioma, an incurable form of cancer in the lining of the abdomen. After his discovery, the injured construction worker filed suit against several defendants, including the maker and supplier of the joint compounds and texture sprays. The injured man eventually settled with most of the defendants, but he pursued a claim against the manufacturer, alleging strict liability based on defective design, strict liability failure to warn, and negligent failure to warn. Strict liability differs from negligence lawsuits because the injured person does not have to show fault based on a failure by the at-fault party to uphold a duty to the injured person. In strict liability lawsuits, one must show that the injury was at the hands of the manufacturer.

The injured person succeeded at trial and won a jury verdict award of over six million dollars. The district court of appeals reversed the verdict and judgment, finding that the trial court erred in failing to apply the Restatement 3rd of Torts. The Florida Supreme Court disagreed with the district court in its insistence on applying the Third Restatement standards in its decision.

The Florida Supreme Court pointed out that a strong precedent exists throughout state case law of applying the Restatement 2nd of Torts to strict product liability cases, rather than the Third. The Third Restatement imposes a greater burden on the injured party under the “risk utility” test, forcing plaintiffs to provide a reasonable alternative design. In contrast, the Second Restatement uses the consumer expectations test. If the product is unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer or to her or his property, the manufacturer is liable. The fact-finder, or jury, uses its knowledge based on the evidence presented to determine whether the product is “unreasonably dangerous.”

The Supreme Court also disagreed that the injured construction worker didn’t provide enough proof of causation. The court strongly felt that this type of requirement would defeat the point of strict liability, which is purposefully constructed to hold manufacturers to a higher standard of safety and relieve the injured person from having to meet that additional burden of proof. Conflicting testimony was presented at the trial, which left the question for the jury to decide of whether or not the manufacturer knew the product was unsafe after OSHA required labels to be placed on the product. Some evidence indicated that the company complied, but other evidence suggested that it knew that other dangers existed beyond the warning issued to the suppliers.

The injured construction worker also showed a connection to the use of the product and the mesothelioma he contracted. The Supreme Court felt the injured construction worker provided the appropriate level of proof, and the rejection of the manufacturer’s jury instruction did not constitute error. Based on its analysis, the court reversed the district court’s decision and reinstated the $6 million verdict in favor of the injured man.

The Florida personal injury attorneys at Donaldson & Weston can help you aggressively pursue your claim. When catastrophic injuries happen and result in life-long impairments, our firm knows how to push back against defendants trying to limit their own liability. For a free consultation today, call our office at 772-266-5555.

More Blog Posts:

Florida District Appeals Court Reviews Notice Requirements for Insured to Receive Personal Injury Protection Benefits, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 13, 2015

Knowing How a Rejection of Uninsured/Underinsured Auto Insurance Coverage in Florida Affects You and Your Family, South Florida Injury Lawyer Blog, October 6, 2015