The Texas Supreme Court has ruled that a state law limiting corporations’ “successor liability” for personal injury claims from asbestos exposure violates the state constitution when applied to a common law suit that pre-dated the enactment of the law.
In Barbara Robinson V. Crown Cork & Seal Co. Inc. (No. 06-0714) the Court was asked to determine whether Chapter 149 of the Texas Civil Practice and Remedies Code violates the prohibition against retroactive laws contained in article I, section 16 of the Texas Constitution.
The Court held that it does in this particular case.
Robinson, a widow, filed suit against 21 defendants alleging that her husband, John Robinson, was exposed to asbestos in the workplace and contracted mesothelioma as a result of that exposure.
The original suit was filed before the state Legislature adopted Chapter 149, which was intended to limit the liabilities of “successor” companies — firms that had not been involved in the manufacture of the product at issue, in this case asbestos, but purchased companies that had been involved in their manufacture.
Crown Cork & Seal Co., one of the 21 defendants named in the suit, argued that it was not liable under the Chapter 149 statute because its exposure to the litigation arose from its brief ownership of the Mundet Cork Corp. In the original suit, the Robinsons claimed that during John Robinson’s service in the United States Navy from 1956 to 1976, he worked with asbestos insulation manufactured by Mundet, and that when Crown and Mundet merged, Crown succeeded to Mundet’s liabilities.
“Crown has never itself engaged in the manufacture or sale of asbestos products,” the Court explained. However, because the original suit was filed before the legislature enacted the statute protecting successor companies, Crown’s inclusion as a defendant is still valid in this particular case, the Court decided.
The Court remanded the case back to the trial court, but stressed that while it found Chapter 149 “unconstitutionally retroactive as applied to Robinson,” the ruling may not apply in all cases.
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