In Moeller v. Garlock Sealing Technologies, LLC the 6th Circuit held that while the decedent's exposure to the defendant's gaskets "may have contributed to his mesothelioma, the record simply does not support an inference that it was a substantial cause of his mesothelioma. Given that the Plaintiff failed to quantify [decedent's] exposure to asbestos from [Defendant's gaskets] and that the Plaintiff concedes that [decedent] sustained massive exposure to asbestos from [other] sources, there is simply insufficient evidence to infer that [Defendant's] gaskets probably, as opposed to possibly, were a substantial cause of [decedent's] mesothelioma... On the basis of this record, saying that exposure to [Defendant's] gaskets was a substantial cause of [decedent's] mesothelioma would be akin to saying that one who pours a bucket of water into the ocean has substantially contributed to the ocean's volume. Cf. Gregg. v V-J Auto Parts, Col, 943 A.2d 216, 223 (Pa. 2007)."
So what's the problem? The problem is that the court is not asking whether the exposure in question created a substantial risk - one that may have been (though we'll never know because there were other possible sufficient causes) the cause of plaintiff's injury. No, the court is asking whether the exposure was likely to have been the "actual cause" of plaintiff's injury. That's made clear when the court writes: "Substantial causation refers to the probably cause, as opposed to a possible cause". Thus, it's not an inquiry as to the conduct (i.e. did Defendant produce more than a de minimis risk) but rather an inquiry as to the amount of the exposure to Defendant's product relative to other exposures.
For defendants then, who increasingly face a litigation environment in which their product contributed a bucket of water into an ocean the size of a bathtub, a few more victories like Moeller v. Garlock threaten to utterly undo them.
Hat tip Nina Webb-Lawton