Asbestos Litigation Blues

Mr. Curtis  Geatz alleges that he has mesothelioma as a result of asbestos exposure, including exposure to crocidolite from having smoked Kent Micronite filtered cigarettes for nine months, in 1955-56. Geatz v. Benjamin Moore & Co., File No. 62CV124946, Minn. D. Ct. for Ramsey Cty. (2d Jud. Dist.).  SeeLorillard Executive Admits Asbestos Once Included in Kent Filters” (April 23, 2013) (misleadingly suggesting that testimony about filter content was something other than very old news).

Crocidolite is clearly the most potent cause of mesothelioma.  In a published cohort study of workers at Hollingsworth & Vose, a company that made the filters for the Kent cigarette, over 15 percent of all deaths were due to mesothelioma.  James Talcott, et al., “Asbestos-Associated Diseases in a Cohort of Cigarette-Filter Workers,” 321 New Engl. J. Med. 1220 (1989).

Despite the high potency of crocidolite in causing mesothelioma, the late Irving Selikoff  worked hard to advance his opinion that all asbestos fiber types were comparable.  Selikoff also propagandized the view that crocidolite was not widely used in the United States, although he and his colleagues documented the use of “blue” fiber at Johns-Manville factories in the United States. SeeSelikoff and the Mystery of the Disappearing Amphiboles” (Dec. 10, 2010).

In Mr. Geatz’s case, Lorillard moved for summary judgment on grounds that crocidolite fibers in the cigarettes plaintiff smoked were not a substantial contributing factor of his mesothelioma. The trial court denied Lorillard’s motion, apparently on the strength of unidentified exhibits attached to an attorney affidavit (Tiffany Dickenson).

Mr. Geatz’ claim is not implausible on its face, but the trial court’s refusal of Lorillard’s motion for summary judgment is a conclusory black box.  It may be right or wrong, but it fails to describe the defendant’s evidence or arguments as to why potent crocidolite in the Kent filter could not have been a substantial factor, or the plaintiffs’ evidence as to why the jury should be allowed to say otherwise.  Lorillard may have argued that the fibers did not leave the filter, or that the exposure would have been too low, even to the extremely potent crocidolite fiber.  Apparently there was no threshold issue of admissibility of each side’s expert witnesses, but still, the scientific issues, the plaintiffs, and the defendants deserve some explanation of the court’s decision.

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