Auto Mechanic May Pursue Claim Against Asbestos Brake and Muffler Manufacturers
SALEM, OR -- December 8, 2006 -- Lawrence Keller, an auto mechanic who suffered lung damage from asbestos exposure, is not barred from pursuing a claim against several manufacturers of asbestos-containing automotive products, according to a decision by the Oregon Supreme Court. The defendants had argued that Mr. Keller did not file his case within Oregon's specified deadline, which is within two years from the date on which the plaintiff first discovers, or should have discovered an injury.
Mr. Keller filed his asbestos claim in October 2000. The defendants charged that since the mid-1980s, Mr. Keller knew that asbestos may have caused his lung problems, so he did not meet the two-year restriction. Therefore, they requested a summary judgment, a decision in their favor that would be made before trial because there were no issues left to resolve. The trial court granted the defendants' request, but the Court of Appeals later ruled for Mr. Keller.
The Oregon Supreme Court confirmed the Court of Appeals decision. It concluded that a reasonable juror could find that Mr. Keller did not actually know, nor could he be expected to know, that he had an asbestos-related disease until April 10, 2000. At that time, a doctor diagnosed him with asbestosis, a painful scarring of the lungs caused by asbestos exposure.
Mr. Keller worked with asbestos-containing brakes and clutches as well as with mufflers that were wrapped in asbestos. He knew that he had been exposed to asbestos and exhaust fumes in the 1970s and 1980s. From 1986 through 1995, Mr. Keller repeatedly sought treatment for his lung problems, but his doctors did not diagnose him as having an asbestos-related disease. Mr. Keller "was not unreasonable in failing to discover what his doctors could not," the Supreme Court said. Mr. Keller did not seek treatment from 1995 to 2000. However, he did not suffer any change in his symptoms during this time. Also, it is not clear what further inquiries would have revealed.
The full text of the case, entitled Lawrence Keller and Patricia Keller v. Armstrong World Industries, Inc. and Borg-Warner Automotive, Inc. and Tenneco Automotive Operating Company, Inc., may be found on the web site of the Oregon Supreme Court.
The plaintiffs were represented by the Portland offices of Brayton Purcell. The case was argued before the Oregon Supreme Court by James Coon of Swanson, Thomas & Coon in Portland.