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Wannall v. Honeywell International, Inc.

    Brief Fact Summary.

    John Tyler and his wife brought this action in the District of Columbia Superior Court against Honeywell International, Inc., Bendix Corporation (Bendix) alleging the brake products Tyler worked with contained asbestos fibers, a carcinogenic substance that is directly linked to mesothelioma.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    To succeed in a motion for summary judgment negligence action with multiple causes, a plaintiff must provide sufficient medical or scientific evidence that links the defendant’s product directly to the plaintiff’s injury.

    Facts.

    Bendix’s, a company that manufactures and sell vehicle brakes and component parts, brakes contained asbestos fibers, a carcinogenic substance that is directly linked to mesothelioma. Mesothelioma a deadly type of cancer.John Tyler claim she was prolonged exposure to the asbestos-laden brakes when he was working as a brake repairman. Due to the prolonged exposure to the brakes, Tyler claims he developed mesothelioma. Honeywell, the predecessor to Bendrix, removed the action to federal district court. Thereafter, Tyler died. Nonetheless, Stephen Wannall, the executor of Tyler’s estate, continued to bring suit for Tyler and his wife.Notably, Tyler was previously working with asbestos products when he was in the United States Navy and when he worked at Fort Belvoir in Virginia. Wannall presented Dr. Steven Markowitz, an expert, to testify that Tyler’s exposure to asbestos at all three locations was sufficient to create his mesothelioma. Honeywell motioned for summary judgment, and the district court denied the motion on the grounds that Tyler’s exposure to the brakes was a substantial factor that contributed to the development of mesothelioma. At this moment, the Virginia Supreme Court decided Ford Motor Co. v. Boomer, which abolished the substantial-contributing-factor test for a proximate cause determination. 736 S.E.2d 724 (Va. 2013). As a result of the court’s decision, Dr. Markowitz filed a declaration offering four additional opinions.  One the Dr. Markowitz’s opinions were that Tyler’s exposure to asbestos at each workplace independently and sufficiently caused his mesothelioma. Thereafter, Honeywell’s motion to strike Dr. Markowitz’s declaration as untimely, and another motion for summary judgment.

    Issue.

    Whether a plaintiff may succeed in a motion for summary judgment negligence action with multiple causes.

    Held.

    Yes, to succeed in a motion for summary judgment negligence action with multiple causes, a plaintiff must provide sufficient medical or scientific evidence that links the defendant’s product directly to the plaintiff’s injury

    Discussion.

    To succeed in a motion for summary judgment negligence action with multiple causes, a plaintiff must provide sufficient medical or scientific evidence that links the defendant’s product directly to the plaintiff’s injury. In this case, Dr. Markowitz initially provided an opinion that stated any one of Tyler’s the three exposures to asbestos could have sufficiently caused Tyler’s mesothelioma. Nonetheless, precedent establishes that an expert must first opine about the level of asbestos exposure that is sufficient to cause a mesothelioma and after compare that level to the plaintiff’s exposure. Both Dr. Markowitz’s initial and revised opinions fail to provide the requisite evidence under Boomer. Also, Wannall’s other experts similarly failed to sufficiently show that Tyler’s exposure to Bendix brakes independently more likely than not caused his mesothelioma. Thus, the defendants’ motions to strike Dr. Markowitz’s revised declaration and for summary judgment are granted.


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