After three days of trial testimony, a Madison County asbestos case settled shortly after 9 a.m. today.
Plaintiff William Hollingsworth, a Michigan mechanic, sued dozens of corporations in 2012, claiming his wife, Karen, died from mesothelioma in 2010, as a result of second-hand asbestos exposure derived mainly from his work on tractor clutches.
Hollingsworth was represented by Eric Jackstadt, Patrick Haines and Justin Heim of Napoli Shkolnik of Edwardsville. He claimed that Deere manufactured and sold asbestos-containing products which contaminated his clothing and exposed his wife when she laundered them.
The only defendant at trial in Associate Judge Stephen Stobbs' court was Deere & Co., represented by Matthew Fischer and Brian Watson of Schiff Hardin in Chicago.
In a motion for summary judgment, Deere argued that since Michigan law governed Hollingsworth's claims, a question of law for the court was whether the company owed a legal duty to Karen Hollingsworth because she was exposed second-hand by residue "carried miles away from the workplace on the clothes of her husband."
Prior to trial, Deere pointed out in legal briefs that the Michigan Supreme Court in 2007 vacated an out of state verdict and concluded that Michigan law does not impose such a legal duty.
It also argued that even though Michigan relies more on the relationship, if any, between the parties than foreseeability in deciding whether a duty exists, Hollingsworth did not offer any evidence that the risk from take-home asbestos exposure was forseeable by Deere.
In addition, the company argued that Michigan public policy has refused to impose a legal duty with respect to second hand exposure.
"As the Court explained, the 'recognition of a commonlaw cause of action under the circumstances of this case would, in our opinion, expand traditional tort concepts beyond manageable bounds and create an almost infinite universe of potential plaintiffs,'" wrote Deere attorney Watson.
Hollingsworth countered that Deere "conflated" Michigan law on premises liability with the state's law on products liability.
"In the products liability context, the Michigan Supreme Court has not only held that the manufacturer of a product owes a legal obligation of due care to a bystander affected by the use of its product, it specifically held that the relationship between the manufacturer and the user of its product extends to the person injured by that product," wrote Heim.