Appeals Court Scuttles Rare $8M Asbestos Verdict Against R.J. Reynolds, Crane Co.
West Palm Beach — A Florida appeals court has overturned a rare $8 million verdict in an asbestos-related mesothelioma lawsuit against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and Crane Co., finding that a trial court shouldn’t have allowed jurors to hear testimony from an expert whose opinions lacked sufficient factual basis.
In an en banc opinion issued November 9, the Fourth District Court of Appeal declined to reconsider a September decision scuttling the 2013 award in favor of Richard Delisle, who claims he developed mesothelioma from smoking Kent cigarettes with asbestos-containing filters in the 1950’s. Delisle, who worked as a pipe fitter in the 1960’s, also partially attributed his asbestos exposure to gaskets manufactured by Crane Co.
The vast majority of asbestos lawsuits are filed against industrial companies and heavy manufacturers, and an asbestos-related jury trial involving a tobacco company is extremely unusual. The full trial was recorded gavel-to-gavel by Courtroom View Network, whose online archive includes the world’s only video collection of asbestos and tobacco trials.
The appeals court wrote that testimony from Dr. James Dahlgren, a medical doctor who told jurors that low-level exposure to chrysotile-variety asbestos from Crane gaskets could cause mesthelioma, wasn’t adequately backed up by scientific data.
“There was no data presented at the hearing showing that chrysotile asbestos in low levels is associated with mesothelioma. Indeed, the other experts testifying for DeLisle all rejected such an association,” the opinion states. “The trial court’s gatekeeping role is not a passive role. The court should affirmatively prevent imprecise, untested scientific opinion from being admitted.”
The court also took similar issue with deposition testimony from another medical expert, Dr. James Crapo, and industrial hygienist Dr. James Rasmuson. The trial court lacked sufficient information to include or exclude Crapo’s testimony, and Ramuson’s testimony relied on a non-peer-reviewed study, the court said.
RJR now faces a possible retrial of the case, while the appeals court entered a directed verdict in favor of Crane. Crane and RJR were assigned 16 and 22 percent responsibility for Delisle’s illness, respectively, at the time of the trial. Remaining responsibility was allocated amongst Hollingsworth & Vos, Owens Corning Fiberglass and Brightwater Paper Co., who were no longer involved in the case when it went to a jury.
Delisle is represented by Gary Farmer Sr. of Farmer Jaffe Weissing Edwards Fistos & Lehrman PL and David Jagolinzer of The Ferraro Law Firm.
Crane is represented by Rebecca Kibbe of K&L Gates LLP. RJR is represented by Elliot Scherker, Sabrina Ferris, Julissa Rodriguez, Brigid Cech Samole and Stephanie Varela of Greenberg Traurig LLP.
The case is Crane et al. v. DeLisle et al., case numbers 4D13-4351 and 4D14-146, in the Fourth District Court of Appeal of the State of Florida.