The proximate cause of an event is that act or omission which, in natural and continuous sequence, unbroken by an efficient intervening cause, produces that event, and without which that event would not have occurred.
Walter Boomer (plaintiff) sued Ford Motor Company (Ford) and Bendix Corporation (Bendix) (defendants) on behalf of his father-in-law, James Lokey. For many years Lokey, a Virginia State Trooper, performed mechanics using compressed air to blow out brake dust for him to perform visual inspection of vehicle brakes. The dust inhaled by him contained asbestos, which eventually exposed him to a diagnosis of mesothelioma. Prior to working as a state trooper, Lokey also was a pipefitter in a naval shipyard, where asbestos-containing products also were likely present.
At trial, Boomer’s medical experts testified that the asbestos-containing brakes manufactured by Bendix, which were installed in vehicles manufactured by Ford, were a substantial, contributing factor to Lokey’s mesothelioma. At the close of evidence, the trial judge instructed the jury on proximate cause and asked them to determine whether the negligence was a “substantial contributing factor” to Lokey’s condition. The trial court overruled the defendants’ objections to the use of the instruction. The jury held for Boomer and awarded damages; hence, this appeal by the defendants.
Did the trial court err in neglecting the objections to the jury?
The Court held that the trial court erred in not upholding the manufacturer's objections to the instructions to the jury in which the trial court told the jury to determine whether the manufacturer's negligence was a "substantial contributing factor" to the officer's mesothelioma. In concurring causation cases, the cause-in-fact element of proximate cause uses the following standard: exposure to the defendant's product alone must have been sufficient to have caused the harm. The use of the multiple-sufficient-causes approach is still proper whether the concurring causes are all tortious, or whether some are innocent.