TN Court of Appeals Revives Asbestos-Mesothelioma Lawsuits
It has been well established that exposure to asbestos causes mesothelioma, a deadly form of lung cancer. Many Tennessee workers were exposed to asbestos during a time when it was used extensively in construction and industry. And even decades after the initial exposure, Tennessee courts continue to hear lawsuits against the companies responsible for such exposure.
Performing Daily Insulation Work Does Not Qualify as “Improvement” Under Statute of Repose
Recently, the Tennessee Court of Appeals revived a number of asbestos-related lawsuits that were previously dismissed as “time barred” by a Knox County judge. The lead case involves a now-deceased man who worked at the Tennessee Eastman Chemical Plant for nearly three decades. During this time, the victim’s job required him to repair and replace equipment.
This work exposed the victim to asbestos in several ways. First, the victim breathed in asbestos-containing dust that was present in the insulation used by the equipment he serviced. This insulation was manufactured by Johns-Manville Corporation. Second, the victim breathed in asbestos dust on gaskets manufactured by Johns-Manville and two other companies, Flexitallic and Garlock. Finally, the victim breathed in asbestos dust used in packing manufactured by John Crane, Inc., Chesterton, Garlock, and Johns-Manville.
Following his mesothelioma diagnosis, the plaintiff sued a number of parties, including the manufacturers named above. A Knox County trial court dismissed some of the defendants outright and granted summary judgment to the others. This prompted an appeal from the victim’s widow and estate.
The main issue on appeal was whether or not the plaintiffs brought their claims too late under various state laws. For example, one of the defendants, Daniel International Corporation, cited Tennessee’s four-year statute of repose for personal injury claims related to the “construction of an improvement to real property.” Daniel did not manufacture any of the asbestos-containing products described above, but it did install them at the victim’s worksite. Daniel argued its activities qualified as construction and therefore fell within the four-year repose period, which expired before the plaintiffs filed their lawsuit.
The Court of Appeals, however, held that Daniel’s alleged actions did not qualify as “construction of an improvement to real property.” Rather, it performed “daily removal and installation of insulation at an industrial facility over the course of many years.” This was not the same thing as “construction.”
With respect to several other defendants, the trial court applied another statute of repose that barred any asbestos-related claims against manufacturers who sold products “first purchased for use or consumption” prior to July 1969. Here, the Court of Appeals said the defendants failed to present evidence to actually support their contention they did not sell asbestos-containing parts after that cutoff date. The appeals court noted the burden was on each individual defendant to prove they did not sell any offending products to Eastman, the victim’s employer, after July 1969.
Contact a Tennessee Mesothelioma Attorney Today
Asbestos and mesothelioma litigation often involves multiple defendants who may rely upon different legal theories to avoid liability. The complexity of such lawsuits require the advice and counsel of an experienced Nashville mesothelioma & toxic exposure lawyer. Contact Fox Willis Burnette, PLLC, today if you or a loved one has suffered serious injuries due to toxic exposure in the workplace.