Court of Appeals Reverses Multiple Summary Judgments and Allows Plaintiff to Move Forward in Mesothelioma Suit.
Plaintiff worked as a mechanic at the Tennessee Eastman chemical plant for nearly 30 years. While employed there, he was responsible for repairing and maintaining the equipment. Due to the corrosive nature of the chemicals at the plant, the equipment required daily repairs and maintenance. When he made repairs to the equipment in carrying out his job duties, and when worn components on the equipment were replaced, Plaintiff was exposed to asbestos. Following his diagnosis of Mesothelioma, Plaintiff filed suit against multiple Defendants including those who manufactured and supplied the equipment and replacement parts containing asbestos.
The trial court dismissed some of the Defendants. The remaining Defendants filed motions for summary judgment.
In granting summary judgment to the remaining Defendants, the trial court found that the Plaintiff’s claims against one defendant were time-barred by construction statutes of repose, that claims against three defendants were time-barred by the Tennessee Products Liability Act (TPLA) statute of repose, that ten defendants proved they had negated their duty to warn, and that claims against seven additional defendants lacked sufficient causation evidence.
The Plaintiff filed a notice of appeal for each judgment, and the Court of Appeals consolidated them. Upon review of each motion, the Court of Appeals for Tennessee held that the four-year statute of repose applied by the trial court was inapplicable to Plaintiff’s claims because the replacement and maintenance did not constitute “construction of an improvement to real property.” Next, the court held that the trial court failed to conduct a fact-intensive and defendant-specific inquiry as required by the TPLA and, therefore, three defendants were incorrectly granted summary judgment on the basis of the TPLA statute of repose. The court held that these asbestos-containing components justified imposing a duty upon the seller to warn because the degree of foreseeable harm and the gravity of potential harm outweighed the burden that the sellers would bear to warn purchasers of the asbestos-containing materials. Lastly, the court held that the Plaintiff successfully raised genuine issued of fact as to causation. Therefore, the court vacated all summary judgments entered by the trial court and remanded the case for further proceedings.
Donald Capparella has handled more than 350 appeals in state and federal courts. He is regularly called upon to handle complex appellate matters, and has served as counsel on many of Tennessee’s landmark cases.
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