Foundation Files Amicus Letter in California Supreme Court


The Foundation has filed an amicus letter with the California Supreme Court on behalf of 19 prominent scientists, including two Nobel laureates (one in Medicine and one in Physics), a former director of the National Center for Toxicological Research, a former director of the National Cancer Institute, and a professor emeritus of Biochemistry and Molecular Biology at the University of California, Berkeley, urging that court to grant the petition for review filed by Crane Co. in Norris v. Crane Co., a case involving a claim that a sailor on a Navy ship developed mesothelioma from exposure to chrysotile asbestos used in valves manufactured by Crane.

After trial, a jury found for plaintiffs (the surviving wife and children of the sailor), and awarded over $3.0 million in damages against Crane. The intermediate appellate court upheld the verdict.

Under California law, plaintiffs in asbestos cases must meet the same burden for proving cause in fact as plaintiffs in other types of personal injury cases, and therefore must show that their exposure was a substantial factor in causing the injury. Our amicus letter argues that Court of Appeals made a number of significant errors in its understanding of the relevant science. For example, it assumed that chrysotile asbestos (a form of serpentine asbestos used in Cranes valves) has been unequivocally shown to cause mesothelioma in observational studies and thereby satisfies general causation. However, as we point out in our amicus letter, the current scientific evidence is that the chrysotile form of asbestos is at least 20-fold less potent as a cause of mesothelioma than amphibole asbestos, which was the type of asbestos in insulation used throughout the ship and made by companies other than Crane, and to which the sailor was exposed continually. Also, the sailors exposure to asbestos from Cranes valves was so minimal by his own admission he was only in the vicinity of work done by others on the Crane valves that the claim that exposure to chrysotile asbestos while observing gasket changing increased his risk of contracting mesothelioma has not been, and cannot be, supported, and is at best speculative, remote or conjectural.

The case is Peggy Irene Norris, et al. v. Crane Company, No. S162878 (California Supreme Court).