Tennessee Court of Appeals Reverses Summary Judgment to Asbestos Manufacturers in Product Liability Lawsuit

Generally speaking, a Tennessee personal injury lawsuit must be filed within the one-year statute of limitations for negligence cases if it is to survive a motion for summary judgment. This seems like a straight-forward rule, but this is not always so. For example, in some cases, exposure to a product may cause serious injury or even death, but these effects may take many years to manifest themselves.

Tennessee also has a statute of repose that places additional limitations on the plaintiff in a personal injury or wrongful death case, including one stemming from injuries caused by exposure to asbestos. In some situations, an injured person may have been exposed to multiple sources of asbestos over a multi-year period, creating further issues that must be hashed out during the litigation process.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who developed mesothelioma after working at a chemical plant in east Tennessee for approximately 20 years. He (along with his wife) filed multiple product liability claims against the defendants (an asbestos manufacturer and others), asserting claims for the defendants’ respective alleged involvement in the male plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos in the workplace.

The trial court awarded summary judgment to the defendants, holding that plaintiffs’ claims against one defendant were time-barred under Tenn. Code Ann. § 28-3-202 (2017), the plaintiffs’ claims against three defendants were time-barred under Tenn. Code Ann. § 29-28-103 (2012), several defendants affirmatively negated their alleged duty to warn, and the plaintiffs presented insufficient evidence of causation with respect to some defendants. The plaintiffs appealed.

Decision of the Court

The Court of Appeals of Tennessee at Knoxville vacated all of the final judgments entered by the trial court. The court began by acknowledging the plaintiffs’ argument that the trial court had committed reversible error by its verbatim adoption of the findings of fact and conclusions of law proposed by some of the defendants; in the court’s opinion, however, any potential violations of Tenn. R. Civ. P. 56.04 by the trial court were moot in light of the appellate court’s overall opinion in the case.

The court went on to rule that the trial court had erred in siding with the defendants on the issue of the timeliness of the plaintiffs’ complaint, finding that there were genuine issues of material fact that had to be determined in order to resolve issues such as whether the defendant was entitled to assert a statute of repose defense.

With regard to the more substantive issue of whether it was erroneous for the trial court to grant summary judgment to all of the defendants, the court found that the expert testimony proffered by the plaintiffs was sufficient to raise a question of fact as to whether each of the defendants’ products was a substantial contributing factor and a proximate cause of the male plaintiff’s development of mesothelioma.

Experienced East Tennessee Personal Injury Attorney

If you have been hurt by a dangerous or defective product, seasoned Knoxville product liability attorney Mark Hartsoe at the Hartsoe Law Firm can help. For a free consultation to learn more about our services, call us now at 865-524-5657. As is evident from the court’s opinion in the opinion discussed above, time is of the essence in a personal injury case, so please to do delay in seeking legal advice about your potential claim.

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