On December 19, 2019, the First District issued its opinion in Daniels v. Arvinmeritor, Inc., affirming a $6 million verdict for the estate of Patrick O’Reilly, a union pipefitter from 1957 to 1998 who passed away from mesothelioma in April of 2017. 2019 IL App (1st) 190170 (formerly Daniels v. John Crane, Inc.). John Crane was the only defendant left when the jury verdict was reached, subjecting it to a nearly $5 million liability after set-offs were subtracted. After its motion for a new trial was denied, John Crane appealed arguing the trial erred in denying its post-trial motion because the court: (1) allowed Plaintiff’s medical expert, Dr. Abraham, to testify that the cumulative dose of Plaintiff’s exposure to all products caused his injury; (2) provided inaccurate jury instructions regarding proximate cause and the state of the art defense in asbestos cases; (3) failed to include four settled defendants on the jury form; and (4) did not properly analyze certain settlement agreements prior to making good faith findings. The appellate court ultimately affirmed the judgment of the circuit court. Below is a brief analysis on each of the issues on appeal.
First, with respect to John Crane’s argument that the Circuit Court improperly allowed testimony regarding cumulative dose, John Crane argued that this testimony should have been precluded because it was insufficient to establish causation under the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” standard. See Thacker v. UNR Industries, 151 Ill. 2d 343 (1992). The Court found that Dr. Abraham did not testify “that even a de minimis exposure to asbestos could cause an asbestos-related disease.” Rather he “testified that the more an individual is historically exposed to asbestos the more likely it is this person would develop an asbestos-related disease.” Thus, this basis was denied.
Second, John Crane argued that the trial court erred in not instructing the jury that Decedent’s “exposure to John Crane products must be a substantial factor in bringing about his illness.” Instead, the Court used the jury instruction for proximate cause provided by IPI Civil (2006) 15.01. The Court noted that none of the cases John Crane cited in its appeal find that a jury must be instructed on the substantial factor test. The court further reasoned that this instruction was proper as Plaintiff sought to prove their case through concurrent causation and John Crane’s non-pattern jury instruction did not appropriately capture this concept. John Crane further argued that the trial court erred in refusing to instruct the jury with its definition of “state of the art.” The First District disagreed, finding that John Crane’s proposed instruction required “plaintiff to prove that both John Crane and those in the asbestos products manufacturing industry knew of the dangerous nature of John Crane’s gaskets and packing.” The Court found that Plaintiff established John Crane had knowledge of the dangers of asbestos by 1970 so, “what was known in the industry [was] merely secondary to what was actually known by John Crane.”
Third, John Crane argued the Circuit Court erred when it did not allow four settled defendants to appear on the verdict form. Plaintiff argued that John Crane forfeited this argument as to three of the four defendants because John Crane only requested that one of the settled defendants be on the form at trial. The appellate court agreed that this argument was forfeited with respect to three of the defendants. With respect to other defendant that John Crane wanted to put on the verdict form, the appellate court held Illinois Supreme Court jurisprudence has held that settling defendants are not to be included in the apportionment at fault. See Ready v. United/Goedecke Services, Inc., 232 Ill. 2d 369 (2008).
Finally, for its last issue on appeal, John Crane argued that the trial court approved the good faith settlements of four defendants without knowledge of the amount or a determination of how those settlements would be allocated amounted to an abuse of discretion by the trial court. Namely, “the trial court could not determine whether the settlement amounts were within a reasonable range of the settling defendants’ fair shares of liability.” The Court disagreed in noting that “[w]hile the trial court did not expressly state that it reviewed the settlement agreements, there is nothing in the record to suggest that the trial court did not review the settlement agreements as required.”
The Appellate Court’s decision offers several important lessons and guidance on what may or may not be sufficient to overturn a plaintiff’s verdict. This decision also offered a key reminder of the Illinois Supreme Court’s decision in Ready that defense attorneys cannot count on settled defendants to be included in apportionment of fault on the verdict form.