Fourth District appellate judges praised Adams County Circuit Judge Mark Drummond for stopping a “speculative and conjectural” asbestos suit.
Justices John Turner, Robert Steigmann, and James Knecht affirmed Drummond’s summary judgment order against widow Virginia Bowles on Oct. 11.
Virginia’s lawyers at Wylder, Corwin and Kelly in Bloomington blamed Owens-Illinois and John Crane Inc. for the death of her husband, Jerald Bowles.
“A plaintiff cannot present her case to the jury unless there is sufficient evidence for the jury to conclude the defendant’s conduct was a cause of the injury,” Turner wrote.
“No testimony indicated decedent worked with John Crane products or was around people who regularly did so.
“In an attempt to show decedent’s exposure to Owens-Illinois asbestos products, plaintiff’s counsel has taken liberties with the deposition testimony.”
In an unusual twist at the end, Turner wrote, “In closing, we commend the trial court for its thorough and reasoned order on the motions for summary judgment.”
Jerald Bowles died of lung cancer in 2009, at age 71.
Virginia sued 11 companies, alleging wrongful death and conspiracy.
She claimed Jerald inhaled asbestos dust as a Navy radioman from 1955 to 1976, on the USS Floyd B. Parks and other ships.
She claimed asbestos dust came from gaskets John Crane had made and from Kaylo, an Owens-Illinois pipe insulator that witnesses saw in the boiler room.
She introduced depositions of four Navy men and two experts, but the evidence didn’t impress Drummond.
The judge found no showing had been made that Jerald ever installed or worked with asbestos that insulated pipes.
Drummond noted a lack of evidence that pipes in the radio room or near Jerald’s bunk contained an asbestos product manufactured by Owens-Illinois or John Crane.
He wrote that any claim that Jerald inhaled asbestos from either manufacturer would be based on speculation, guess, or conjecture.
He held that Virginia couldn’t show how often Kaylo was used or where and entered orders closing the entire case.
Virginia appealed his judgment for Owens-Illinois and John Crane.
Her evidence didn’t impress the Fourth District either.
“No evidence indicates the exact location where Owens-Illinois products might have been installed or how frequently decedent was in these locations,” Turner wrote.
“No evidence indicates the pipes in the radio room where decedent worked or the bunk where he slept contained Owens-Illinois asbestos products.
“No one can say Owens-Illinois products were frequently used in proximity to where decedent regularly worked.”
Turner continued that even if Kaylo was on the ship, Virginia hadn’t shown where it was placed or that Jerald worked or slept in areas where it was present.
“A claim that decedent was exposed to Kaylo during his time on the Parks is wholly speculative,” he wrote.
As for John Crane, Turner wrote that expert Richard Hatfield showed the company’s gaskets would have released asbestos dust from routine maintenance.
“Hatfield’s study might be of benefit to plaintiffs in some asbestos cases but not this one,” Turner wrote.
He wrote that witness John Rogers stated his work with John Crane gaskets did not create dust when he worked with them.
He wrote that Jerald didn’t remove or install John Crane gaskets and that he worked in radio central, not the boiler room.
John Crane expert Thomas McCaffery testified that the ventilation system for the boiler room would be exhausted up the smokestack, Turner stated.
“As plaintiff notes, each asbestos exposure case must stand on its own facts,” he wrote.
“In this case, however, plaintiff’s claims that decedent was exposed to asbestos containing products of John Crane, as well as Owens-Illinois, is speculative and conjectural.”
Andrew Kelly of the Wylder firm represented Virginia at oral argument.
Matthew Fischer of Chicago represented Owens-Illinois, and Michael Pollard of Chicago represented John Crane.