A logo and company name on an invoice is sufficient circumstantial evidence from a witness about the source of asbestos-containing pipes, a unanimous California Supreme Court ruled Thursday.
Justices in a 7-0 opinion reversed a state appellate court and reinstated a $1.6 million jury award against Keenan Properties Inc.
Jurors found for now-deceased pipe layer Frank Hart, who alleged in a suit filed with his wife that he developed mesothelioma from workplace exposure to asbestos-containing cement pipes that Keenan delivered to his Humboldt County, Calif., job site in 1976-77.
The jury based its finding on a foreman who testified he believed Keenan supplied the pipe because he signed invoices when the pipes were delivered bearing Keenan’s logo, which was a “K” in a circle.
The invoices were destroyed, so jurors never saw them. The state Supreme Court agreed with a trial judge’s ruling that the foreman’s testimony could be used.
The foreman’s “observations were circumstantial evidence of Keenan’s identity as the source of the pipes. Based on the facts here, the court was correct,” Justice Carol A. Corrigan wrote.
“Taken together, the evidence was relevant to prove the disputed link between Keenan and the pipes, regardless of the content the words on the invoice might otherwise have asserted,” the court said.
The case returns to the appeals court, which in October 2018 struck down the award apportioned to Keenan after other defendants settled.
“Being able to identify who was responsible for a crime or civil claim is of paramount importance in a lawsuit,” said Denyse F. Clancy of Kazan, McClain, Satterley & Greenwood in Oakland, Calif., co-counsel for the Harts. “Because of this opinion, it is now possible for witnesses to testify as to names or logos they they observe on harmful products,” Clancy said.
“Sadly, Mr. Hart passed away from asbestos cancer last year, and could not see this historic opinion,” she said. “But he lives on through his wife Cindy and the legacy that this opinion will leave for others who have been hurt by defective products.”
The case still has issues pending on appeal regarding damages, said W. Joseph Gunter with CMBG3 Law LLP in Irvine, Calif., representing Keenan. He declined to comment further on Thursday.
The case is Hart v. Keenan Props., Inc., Cal., No. S253295, opinion 5/21/20.
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