A California appellate court has ruled in favor of PRL Aluminum, PRL Glass Systems, GlasPro, Glasswerks and Pilkington (the defendants) in a case focused on whether exposure to the companies’ products caused a glazier’s lung disease.
Plaintiffs in the case, De Molina v. Glasswerks LA, are the family of Oscar Molina, who worked at Lucky Glass from 1993 to 2014. They filed a product liability action in 2016 alleging that Molina died of lung disease resulting from inhalation of glass and metal particles arising from his work as a glazier. According to the appellate court opinion, the plaintiffs sued companies that supplied glass and mirrors to Lucky’s Glass during the time Molina worked there, alleging that the cutting, grinding or sanding of their products released aerosolized particles that Molina inhaled, causing his illness and death.
In the plaintiffs’ first amended complaint, they alleged seven causes of action based on product liability: negligence, negligence per se, strict liability – failure to warn, strict liability – design defect, fraudulent concealment, breach of implied warranties and loss of consortium. The plaintiffs sought actual damages, punitive damages and costs.
The defendants filed motions for summary judgment, asserting that products they supplied were all finished products, therefore they would not have been manipulated in any way that would have released airborne glass and metal particles. The Superior Court of Los Angeles County granted the motions, which plaintiffs appealed.
“We affirm,” reads the appellate court opinion. “Each of the defendants presented evidence sufficient to show the lack of a connection between defendants’ finished products and Molina’s exposure to harmful substances. The evidence plaintiffs submitted in response did not demonstrate a triable issue of material fact.”
The appellate court stated that, in a toxic tort case such as this one, a plaintiff must prove both exposure to the defendants’ products and causation. In the case of all five defendants, the appellate court affirmed that the plaintiffs did not present evidence of a triable issue of material fact and that each of the defendants met their threshold burden required in a motion for summary judgment.
In the case of PRL’s products, the opinion reads, “‘[T]he issue is not whether such products could be cut … The relevant issue is whether [PRL’s] products served a role as a substantial factor in [Molina’s] disease.’ The court noted that plaintiffs’ ‘evidentiary submissions as to the gravity and cause of [Molina’s] disease do not establish a causal link.’ Although plaintiffs showed that Molina’s lung disease was caused by airborne particles relating to his employment, ‘such evidence does not create a triable issue as to whether [PRL’s] products in particular were a substantial factor in such harm. Rather, the only evidence presented to this Court demonstrates that PRL Glass and PRL Aluminum provided finished products to Lucky’s Glass which required no manipulation.’ The court therefore held that plaintiffs had not met their burden of demonstrating a triable issue of fact ‘as to whether [PRL’s] products were a substantial factor in causing [Molina’s] lung disease,’ and granted the motion.”
In the case of Pilkington’s products, the appellate court also cited the lower court’s ruling within its opinion, “Plaintiffs’ evidence ‘does not provide that [Molina] was exposed to airborne toxins generated from manipulation of [Pilkington’s] glass, nor that [Molina] worked directly with such glass … [A]lthough ‘it is at least within the realm of possibility’ that [Molina] encountered a Pilkington clear [g]lass product during his employment with Lucky’s Glass, without evidence that such glass was cut in [Molina’s] presence, it would be mere speculation to find that [Molina] was exposed to toxins stemming therefrom.’”
PRL Glass Systems, GlasPro and Pilkington declined to comment on the ruling. Glasswerks had not responded to a request for comment as of press time.