Washington, DC (September 5, 2013) – Venable attorneys James Shea, Mitchell Mirviss, and D.S. Gray recently persuaded the Court of Appeals of Maryland to reverse a multimillion-dollar judgment based on a mesothelioma plaintiff’s inability to prove that a product manufacturer, Georgia-Pacific, LLC, owed her a duty of care.
In 2008, Jocelyn Farrar filed suit against Georgia-Pacific and over 30 other defendants, alleging that, as a teenager, she was exposed to asbestos while laundering the clothes of her grandfather, a long-time asbestos insulation worker who was employed by industry leaders Johns Manville and Philip Carey for nearly fifty years. He never used Georgia-Pacific’s product (a cement used for sealing drywall seams that contained small amounts of asbestos). Instead, Ms. Farrar alleged that her grandfather worked near others using Georgia-Pacific’s product for a six- to seven-month period in the late 1960s and that he unintentionally brought home asbestos-containing fibers from Georgia-Pacific’s product on his work clothes, along with the dust from the other products that he used regularly for decades. By the time of trial, Georgia-Pacific was the only defendant in the case. A Baltimore City jury awarded $20 million to Ms. Farrar, but various cross-claims and setoffs brought the judgment against Georgia-Pacific to just under $5 million. Georgia-Pacific brought in Venable to handle its appeal.
After a compelling oral argument by Jim Shea, on July 8, 2013, the Court of Appeals overturned a reported decision by the intermediate Court of Special Appeals and ruled that Georgia-Pacific had no duty to warn Ms. Farrar of the risks of asbestos because the dangers of household exposures was not widely known until 1972, when OSHA promulgated regulations requiring employers to provide changing and laundering facilities. Moreover, the court also ruled that, even if Georgia-Pacific should have foreseen the risk that asbestos exposure poses to family members before the issuance of OSHA regulations, Georgia-Pacific had no practical means of warning Ms. Farrar to avoid the danger. The Court of Appeals therefore reversed the judgment against Georgia-Pacific in its entirety and, on August 15, 2013, denied Ms. Farrar’s motion for reconsideration.
The decision is expected to have a significant impact on future cases involving secondary exposure to asbestos.
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