Asbestos Client Had Right to Trial on Merits
SAN FRANCISCO, CA — January 11, 1999 — A recent California Court of Appeal decision strengthened a plaintiff's right to trial on all disputed issues, clarifying the complex state law about pre–trial "summary judgment" (Scheiding v. Dinwiddie Construction Co. (1999) 69 Cal.App.4th 64, 99 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 348, 99 Daily Journal D.A.R. 373).
After a long career as a laborer and electrician, Robert Scheiding was diagnosed with asbestos–related cancer. He and his wife, Rae, filed suit against a number of employers, construction contractors and job sites where Mr. Scheiding was exposed to asbestos–containing construction materials. One contractor, Dinwiddie Construction Company, challenged Mr. Scheiding's claims and sought to avoid trial by obtaining a legal ruling called "summary judgment."
Summary Judgment Was Premature
Summary judgment is a drastic remedy that allows a party to avoid trial on the merits on a disputed issue or an entire case. The legal standards for summary judgment are technical and complicated. Simply put, the law that has developed over the past 50 years is designed to make sure that only truly undisputed cases are granted "summary judgment."
The trial judge in Scheiding initially ruled in favor of defendant Dinwiddie. On appeal by Brayton Purcell LLP, however, the appellate court reversed, finding that the trial judge had committed an error. Dinwiddie had failed to show undisputedly that the plaintiffs would be unable to prove their injury claim. The Court of Appeal ruled that summary judgment was premature because discovery was not complete, and Mr. Scheiding had not yet been asked certain specific questions in his deposition about Dinwiddie.
The Scheiding case serves as a major victory for asbestos victims, bolstering a client's right to a jury trial on the merits — each person's constitutional "day in court." Until all the evidence that can be obtained to support a plaintiff's asbestos claim is discovered, defendants will now be less able to defeat plaintiffs through pre–trial motions.