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Pa. appeals court overturns worker asbestos death ruling

Posted On: Jan. 6, 2023 10:19 AM CST


A Pennsylvania appeals court has overturned a trial judge’s dismissal of a case brought by the widow of a worker who died after developing cancer that the man claimed was tied to his exposure to asbestos-containing products while on the job.

The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Wednesday reversed a November 2019 Philadelphia Common Pleas Court decision that granted summary judgment to Lancaster County, Pennsylvania-based Kreider Dairy Farms Inc. in a case brought by Pamela K. Shellenberger on behalf of the estate of her late husband, Richard M. Shellenberger.

The widow alleged that her husband developed malignant mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos while working on the boiler at the Kreider Farms dairy processing plant, a disease that claimed his life in early 2019.

The defendants sought to have the case dismissed, alleging Ms. Shellenberger failed to provide evidence that the farm breached a duty of care to her husband since they were not aware of the presence of asbestos during the time of Mr. Shellenberger’s employment.

The trial court determined that “there was no evidence that [the farm] possessed any knowledge of the dangers of asbestos,” and that a finding that the farm breached a duty of care “would stretch the concept of negligence too far …”

The appeals court said the record before the trial court contained “sufficient evidence from which a jury could have concluded that [the farm] should have known of the dangers of asbestos.”

The panel determined that the trial court was wrong to depose of the case at the summary judgment stage and that a jury should have been given the opportunity to weigh in on the facts of the case as opposed to the trial judge dismissing it as a matter of law.