Asbestos cases often turn on a paper trail as the most reliable evidence at trial, where memories of potential exposure and their sources from decades earlier can be hazy. Todd Suddleson used such a paper trail as the key to a strong closing argument that helped clear CertainTeed in a $5M-plus asbestos trial in 2018. Francisco Herrera v. CertainTeed Corp., CV2014-09632.
Francisco Herrera contended he developed mesothelioma after cutting asbestos-containing cement water pipes made by CertainTeed Corp. while he worked for SunAir Co. in the 1970s.
At trial, the plaintiff sought to paint CertainTeed as a major supplier of asbestos-containing pipe to SunAir while Herrera worked for the company. However, the defense countered Herrera failed to show he was actually exposed to CertainTeed pipe.
During his closing, Suddleson, of DeHay & Elliston LLP, walked jurors through a search of 42,000 invoices he said helped show CertainTeed pipe wasn’t connected to Herrera’s mesothelioma.
Of those 42,000 CertainTeed invoices during the time Herrera worked at SunAir, Suddleson said only seven invoices, for two jobs, were for SunAir. “Between the two jobs, there were only 33 fully-machined pieces (of pipe ordered),” Suddleson told jurors, holding up a piece of pipe about a foot long. “These are the ones that would be cut, so you can get a decent idea on the maximum number of cuts based on the number of [fully-machined pieces] that were ordered.”
Suddleson argued there was insufficient evidence to show Herrera even worked on the two jobs for which CertainTeed supplied that pipe, and he pushed back on the plaintiff’s criticism of the invoice review. “They had the audacity to challenge our review of the invoices. They were like… ‘They actually had attorneys do it. Oh my! How can that possibly be credible?’
“Well, that’s the only way to do it, and we’ve done it,” Suddleson added.
“We invited the plaintiffs to come look for themselves,” Suddleson said, painting CertainTeed as the party with nothing to hide. “Did they? No. Because it’s much easier to just question whether we found all the invoices than it is to actually do the work themselves.”
Suddleson’s closing argument, and his detailed accounting of the paper trial, helped deliver a defense verdict in the case.
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