Horvitz & Levy obtained the reversal of a judgment for over $28 million on the ground that plaintiffs failed to present substantial evidence of asbestos exposure to any product made by Horvitz & Levy’s client.
Amos Webb and his wife sued General Cable and more than two dozen other companies alleging that he developed mesothelioma at the age of 79 from a lifetime of occupational construction trade work that included working with and around asbestos products. Some of that work was in very dusty conditions, in close quarters with workers cutting pipes made with the most toxic form of asbestos. And some of the work involved stringing wires or cables, some of which may have had a small amount of asbestos in the coating or insulation.
By the conclusion of trial, only General Cable remained as a defendant, and it maintained that it hadn’t made any asbestos-containing product that plaintiff would have used. Plaintiffs’ expert said that “heat wire” in the cables that came with certain appliances would have had asbestos, but neither he nor Mr. Webb could say General Cable made any of that cable. Plaintiff’s expert also said he tested a number of samples of cables ordinarily installed in building walls, but was able to find only one that had asbestos, and only during the time frame of 1959 to 1962. He didn’t know who made that particular cable sample, and his description of that cable didn’t match Mr. Webb’s description of the cable he worked with. The jury nonetheless returned a verdict against General Cable, finding it was 39% at fault for Mr. Webb’s cancer, and awarding about $16.5 million to Mr. Webb and $11.5 million to Mrs. Webb.
Horvitz & Levy first challenged the award as excessive in the trial court, and the judge agreed that $2.4 million of the award for future economic damages was excessive. Horvitz & Levy then appealed the reduced judgment, explaining that the finding of any fault was purely speculative, and further arguing that the allocation of fault was unsupportable even if some liability could be found, and the damages were still excessive even as reduced by the trial court. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment and directed the superior court to enter judgment in favor of General Cable. The Court of Appeal held that plaintiffs failed to present substantial evidence that Mr. Webb was exposed to any products manufactured by General Cable that contained asbestos. The court therefore did not need to reach the other grounds for reversal.