August 12, 2015
In Smith v. Illinois Central Railroad Co., the Fourth District of Illinois recently overturned a $1.4 million verdict against the Illinois Central Railroad. At trial, the Court had excluded evidence of the decedent’s work at the UNARCO asbestos plant in Bloomington, Illinois on the ground that the defendant did not have an expert to testify that the exposure at UNARCO was the “sole proximate” cause of the decedent’s disease, asbestosis. The Fourth District found that the trial court’s ruling was erroneous and “particularly egregious.”

This decision reaffirms the Illinois Supreme Court’s reasoning in both Leonardi v. Loyola University of Chicago and Nolan v. Weil-McLain and should make it abundantly clear to asbestos trial judges that the “sole proximate cause” defense is not an affirmative defense for which defendants have any burden of proof, as plaintiffs routinely argue, but rather is merely a component of the plaintiff’s burden of proving proximate cause.

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