Dryer Felt Manufacturer’s Judgment Upheld in Appeal | Goldberg Segalla

Court: Washington Court of Appeals, Division One

In that asbestos lawsuit, the late Kevin Holdsworth worked at a paper mill in Camas, Washington from 1964 to 2001. He claimed to have been exposed to asbestos from multiple sources during his employment, including his role on the paper machine cleaning crew, which required him to “blow down” every paper machine at the Camas mill.

Holdsworth also claimed exposure to asbestos through his role in the maintenance department at Camas Mill, where he frequently used a hammer to break pieces of asbestos-containing insulation off pumps and pipes, and through his work in the pipe shop where he worked Valves, seals and packaging materials. In December 2018, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, allegedly resulting from asbestos exposure at the Camas Mill. He died in 2019.

The trial of the deceased began on May 20, 2021. At the conclusion of Holdsworth’s main action, defendant Scapa Waycross sought final judgment, which the court denied. Scapa renewed his motion after completing all the evidence, which the court again denied. During their closing arguments, the plaintiffs challenged Scapa’s statement to the jury regarding the consideration of damages and material factors. The trial court issued a healing order to the jury, to which Scapa objected. In the end, the jury ruled in favor of the plaintiff. Scapa then renewed his motion for a trial and requested a new trial, both of which were denied. Scapa appealed.

On appeal, Scapa ruled that the trial court’s denial of his motion for conviction was an error of law, arguing there was insufficient evidence of both exposure and proximate cause. The Court of Appeals disagreed, initially noting that the courts were correspondingly reluctant to remove cases from juries. The Court of Appeal also noted that traditional product liability theory requires a reasonable connection between the harm suffered by the plaintiff, the product that caused the harm and the manufacturer of that product, and that it is “well regulated” for plaintiffs to establish harm can product the defendant by direct or circumstantial evidence.

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Here the Court of Appeal found that the evidence clearly established that Scapa supplied 238 dryer felts to the Camas mill (used on paper machines) during the relevant period and that 141 of the supplied dryer felts contained asbestos. Second, both Holdsworth and his colleague Robert Crowson recalled seeing the name “Scapa” on packages of dryer felts at the Camas mill. Both men also testified that Holdsworth blew up every paper machine in the mill as part of his job duties. For these reasons, the Court of Appeal found that the records provided sufficient evidence of the deceased’s exposure to asbestos from Scapa dryer felts.

In addition, Scapa argued that the plaintiffs failed to show that the alleged asbestos exposure was a significant factor in causing the deceased’s mesothelioma. The Court of Appeal found that there are a variety of factors courts must consider in relation to causality, including the proximity of the plaintiff, the length of time the plaintiff was exposed, the types of products and the manner in which products are handled and be used. Scapa argued that the proximity factor was “critical” and that the jury had no basis to assess the length of time Holdsworth was allegedly exposed. The Court of Appeals disagreed, noting that Scarpa had failed to cite case law requiring an asbestos plaintiff to expressly advance this exposure theory. In addition, Holdsworth presented further evidence of causality, including the presence of asbestos-containing dryer felt manufactured by Scapa at the Camas plant, the presence of such dryer felt in the presence of Holdsworth, and expert opinion as to the ability of asbestos fibers to become airborne . For these reasons, the Court of Appeals ruled that the jury had heard enough evidence to adequately support a causality conclusion.

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Finally, Scapa argued on appeal that the trial court’s jury salvation order was “unreasonable, unconstitutional and prejudicial,” effectively directing the jury to disregard Scapa’s causal defense. The Court of Appeal also disagreed with this argument, noting that the record showed that both parties had consented to the order and that, after the order was issued, Scarpa merely noted that he wanted an objection to the record rather than seeking a specific remedy. Nor has Scapa demonstrated that the healing instruction challenged resulted in harm and was not remedied by other court instructions.

For these reasons, the Court of Appeals denied Scapa’s appeal of the judgment and Scapa’s request for a new trial.

Read the full decision here.