Understanding, Managing, and Living with the

Health Effects of Asbestos

Washington Appeals Court Upholds $4.5 Million Mesothelioma Verdict

October 7, 2015

Washington, DC While the asbestos mesothelioma victim did not live to see this day, the family of the late Edwin Estenson is nonetheless cheered by the stance of the Washington State Court of Appeals in upholding a $4.5 million damage award in an asbestos lawsuit against Caterpillar Inc. (Caterpillar), the industrial machinery company.

According to court documents, Edwin Estenson was an employee of Caterpillar over a 13-year period. In videotaped depositions, the victim claimed that he worked on or around products that actively contained asbestos. In the deposition - videotaped before he died from asbestos mesothelioma - Estenson noted a gasket containing asbestos that disintegrated while Estenson was engaged in the repair of a Caterpillar bulldozer, throwing asbestos particles into the air.

Later, a corporate executive for Caterpillar testified that the corporation did indeed utilize components containing asbestos - including engine gaskets - from the 1920s through 1990. Estenson also testified that he had toiled as a maintenance worker for Caterpillar, repairing and maintaining construction equipment in the 1960s.

Court heard that Estenson was diagnosed with asbestos mesothelioma in September 2010 - decades after the alleged exposure to asbestos. That’s not surprising: asbestos fibers, once ingested, are known to incubate in the body for decades before suddenly emerging into asbestosis, asbestos cancer or mesothelioma years after the fact.

By then it is too late: asbestos mesothelioma is almost always fatal. Estenson succumbed to the disease in February 2012.

Before he died and after his diagnosis, Estenson and his wife filed an asbestos lawsuit against Caterpillar and a number of other manufacturers. Caterpillar moved for summary judgment, but was denied. A trial lasting four weeks began in April 2013 without Estenson, who had died by that time. His widow Betty was tasked to soldier on without her husband. The jury in the original trial found Caterpillar liable for product liability and inadequate warnings, and awarded the plaintiff $4.5 million in damages.

Caterpillar petitioned to have the verdict vacated and submitted a motion for a new trial. Both petitions were declined.

Caterpillar appealed on the basis that in its view Estenson had not provided sufficient evidence to suggest that he was exposed to airborne particles from products manufactured by Caterpillar, or that there was a direct causation for the plaintiff’s mesothelioma from the manufacturer’s products.

The appeals court disagreed with Caterpillar’s view. “Washington law does not require an asbestos plaintiff to provide evidence that the individual inhaled airborne respirable asbestos fibers from the defendant’s product,” Judge Ann Schindler wrote in the unanimous opinion. “Instead, Estenson must show ‘exposure’ to an asbestos-containing product manufactured, sold or supplied by Caterpillar.”

The asbestos lawsuit is Betty Estenson v. Caterpillar Inc. et al., Case No. 71429-5-I, in the Court of Appeals of the state of Washington.