The Fourth Circuit let Covil Corp. keep its win in a wrongful death suit alleging that its asbestos products caused a man’s death from mesothelioma, finding there was scant evidence to support allegations that Covil’s products caused the cancer.
In a published opinion Tuesday, the panel affirmed a summary judgment that ended claims by Darrell A. Connor against the company, saying the court’s record didn’t contain evidence to suggest that Connor’s father, Charles Franklin Connor, was substantially exposed to asbestos by Covil’s products.
Connor filed the suit in 2017, after his father’s death at the age of 90, alleging that his father was exposed to asbestos insulation that was around pipes at Fiber Industries, a polyester production company at which Charles Connor worked from 1966 to 1982.
The district court, however, granted summary judgment to Covil, finding that Charles Connor’s own testimony indicated that most of his time was spent at an office, the “P Building,” on site, rather than the production facility where the asbestos was.
To prevail under North Carolina law, Connor would have to show that his father was frequently and in close proximity to the asbestos products, but the record is devoid of evidence or testimony to suggest such.
The panel noted that Charles Connor’s prior work at Norfolk Southern Railway Co. between 1943 and 1963 is a much more likely culprit for his exposure, as one of his primary responsibilities was maintaining steam engines, which had asbestos that had to be removed and replaced daily, leaving asbestos dust in the areas he worked. This would leave his clothes covered in the dust. Thus, this level of exposure “dwarfed” whatever he may have experienced at Fiber Industries. To survive summary judgment, more than a “mere possibility” of substantial cause is needed.