Significant Ruling for Defendants in Illinois and Iowa Asbestos-Related Premises Liability Cases
An October 22, 2013 decision by the District Court of the Northern District of Illinois presents some good news for premises liability defendants involved in toxic exposure cases. The District Court’s decision grants summary judgment and dismissal of all four defendants named in Christine Stanley v. Ameren Illinois Co., et al., a high-stakes asbestos exposure case with potential six-figure damages. Segal McCambridge’s motion for summary judgment successfully argued that client MidAmerican Energy Company owed no duty to warn the plaintiff of exposure to asbestos because it did not control the construction methods of two of its power plants in Iowa. Segal McCambridge shareholder Jason Kennedy, with assistance from shareholder Adam Jagadich and associate Jill Felkins, served as lead counsel for MidAmerican Energy.
Peter Stanley, a boiler engineer for Babcock & Wilcox, worked at a number of Midwestern power plants in the 1960s. Prior to his death of mesothelioma in March 2013, Stanley and his wife filed suit alleging negligence and seeking damages for exposure to asbestos dust and fibers while on the job. MidAmerican Energy is the successor to Iowa Public Service Company, which owned the George Neal Plant Unit 1, and Iowa Power and Light Company, owner of Des Moines Power Station Unit 2. Under supervision of his employer, Stanley had commissioned new boilers at both plants.
Premises liability claims require plaintiffs to prove that the defendant owed a duty to the plaintiff, that the defendant violated that duty, and that the breach of duty caused an injury. Plaintiff argued that MidAmerican Energy, as owner of two power plants in question, owed a duty to warn Stanley of hazardous conditions. Citing Van Fossen v. MidAmerican Energy Co., an Iowa Supreme Court case where Segal McCambridge had initially obtained summary judgment which was subsequently affirmed on appeal, the District Court found:
- Although MidAmerican Energy was present on the job sites, there is no sufficient evidence showing that it retained control over Babcock & Wilcox’s work methods and safety protocols, and therefore owed no duty to warn the subcontractor’s employees.
- As such, the safety of the subcontractor’s employees, such as Stanley, was the responsibility of the subcontractor, not the premises owner.
The District Court granted summary judgment to MidAmerican Energy and the other three defendants. Stanley provides a critical clarification regarding premises owners’ responsibility regarding subcontracted employees’ safety. The Court’s decision offers valuable guidance for future Illinois and Iowa premises liability cases involving toxic exposure and other injuries.