SEATTLE, WA – The Washington State Court of Appeals recently upheld a $4.5 million damage award in an asbestos lawsuit filed against Caterpillar, Inc. According to court documents, Edwin Estenson served in the United States Navy from 1948 to 1952. While serving in the Navy, Estenson worked for three months aboard the USS Curtiss on repairs working with asbestos-containing pipe insulation. In 1955, Estenson took a job at Morrison Knudsen Construction Company in Montana. Estenson worked as a “heavy-duty mechanic” doing maintenance on equipment including a Caterpillar D8 bulldozer. During the summer of 1959 and 1960, Estenson worked for utility contractor Robertson Caves repairing a Caterpillar D8 bulldozer and a Caterpillar D9 bulldozer. From 1961 to 1968, Estenson worked as a shop foreman at Glasgow Air Force Base where he was responsible for overseeing the maintenance on equipment including two Caterpillar D6 bulldozers, a Caterpillar D7 bulldozer, and a Caterpillar motor grader. In 1967, Estenson performed maintenance on a Caterpillar D7 while working for private contractor Farason Construction in Montana. Mr. Estenson claimed he had been exposed to asbestos from gaskets and other parts he used to repair the Caterpillar bulldozers.
Mr. Estenson was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September of 2010 and died in February of 2012. Mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer that is generally associated with asbestos exposure. After his death, Mr. Estenson’s wife continued to pursue the case.
At trial, Caterpillar’s corporate representative, Robert Niemeier, testified that Caterpillar began selling equipment that contained asbestos parts in the late 1920s and continued to sell asbestos-containing equipment and parts until April 1990. During the time that Caterpillar sold asbestos-containing equipment, 13,000 Caterpillar part numbers corresponded to asbestos-containing components. Niemeier testified Caterpillar sold asbestos gaskets, brakes, and clutches as part of its original equipment and as replacement parts.
In defense, Caterpillar offered the testimony of U.S. Navy Commander Thomas McCaffery who testified that the pipe insulation used on the USS Curtiss during the period of time Estenson worked on the overhaul consisted of a molded asbestos product called “Unibestos.” Commander McCaffery testified that “Unibestos contained between 60 and 65 percent amosite asbestos.” Caterpillar also offered the testimony of Dr. William Krebs, an industrial hygienist who testified that in his opinion, Mr. Estenson “did not have a significant exposure to asbestos materials while working on Caterpillar equipment.”
The jury found Caterpillar liable for product liability and inadequate warnings. The jury also found that the “unsafe condition of the product” was “a proximate cause of injury or damage to the plaintiff.” The jury also found Caterpillar negligent and that its negligence was a proximate cause of injury.
Catepillar appealed arguing that Mr. Estenson had not provided sufficient evidence to show that he had been exposed to airborne asbestos from Caterpillar products. The court of appeals disagreed, holding “Washington law does not require an asbestos plaintiff to provide evidence that the individual inhaled airborne respirable asbestos fibers from the defendant’s products.” As stated in the unanimous opinion, “Instead, Estenson must show ‘exposure’ to an asbestos-containing product manufactured, sold or supplied by Caterpillar.”
The lawsuit is Betty Estenson v. Caterpillar Inc. et al., Case No. 71429-5-I, in the Court of Appeals of the state of Washington (2015 Wash. App. LEXIS 2177).
DISCLOSURE: Sammons & Berry, P.C., represents injured workers and their families in asbestos cases ACROSS THE COUNTRY. Our lawyers, paralegals, and other professionals are experienced in evaluating, investigating, negotiating and trying these difficult cases. If you or family member have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer – call or email us for a FREE case evaluation. Our team of experienced attorneys will review the facts in your case and answer any questions you may have.