On April 6, 2016 the Pennsylvania Supreme Court heard argument for the second time in Rost vs. Ford Motor Company, a case which could be extremely important to the future of asbestos litigation in Pennsylvania. There have been a series of unfortunate opinions from Pennsylvania Appellate Courts over the last several years which have made it increasingly difficult for plaintiffs to prove their cases and have therefore deprived innocent victims of asbestos exposure from obtaining just compensation. As is usually the case, these decisions resulted in part from bad fact patterns; often, companies whose products caused heavy exposure to asbestos, and therefore serious injuries to plaintiffs, were bankrupt or no longer in business. Lawyers, often unable to target the “main source” of exposure then sought claims against defendants who manufactured or supplied products which likely had extremely minimal effects of exposure to asbestos.
Unfortunately, asbestos defendants, through their extremely able attorneys, managed to use these fact patterns of cases with limited exposure to convince the Courts that well established medical and scientific principles no longer apply to asbestos cases. Recent decisions now require that expert witnesses testifying for asbestos victims must rely upon much more substantial exposure to asbestos in order to establish that a particular defendant’s product caused that victims’ asbestos-related disease than is required by medicine, science, or previously existing case law.
In Rost, a jury in Philadelphia County returned a significant verdict against Ford. Ford appealed to the Superior Court, which affirmed the trial court’s rulings and upheld the verdict. Ford then appealed the case to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, which heard argument in May, 2015. Between May, 2015 and January, 2016 there were significant changes to the Supreme Court. The Chief Justice, who spent many years defending asbestos companies before he became a Judge, retired. Other members of the Court were forced to resign or retire due to scandal. Due to these changes, an opinion was never rendered. Three new justices were elected to the Court and sworn in this past January. Shortly after the new Justices took the bench, the Court announced that it would hear re-argument in the case. The hope is that the new Court will not only refuse to apply to recent decisions to Rost, but will begin the process of rolling them back and allowing injured asbestos victims their day in Court.