Precedent-Setting Victory in Sales v. Weyerhaeuser Company
Bergman Draper & Frockt, PLLC secured a major precedent-setting victory on February 7, 2008 for our clients when the Washington Supreme Court issued its opinion in Sales v. Weyerhaeuser Company, 163 Wn.2d 14, 117 P.3d 1122 (2008).
Our client, Mr. Charles Sales, an Arkansas resident, was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005 at the age of 20, caused by exposure to asbestos from his father, who unwittingly brought asbestos dust into the family home from his work at a Weyerhaeuser mill between 1972 and 1992.
After Mr. Sales sued Weyerhaeuser, a Washington corporation, in Pierce County in 2006, the trial court dismissed the action under the doctrine of forum non conveniens—basically ruling that the claim had to be brought in Arkansas, where Sales lived and was exposed, and not in Washington, where Weyerhauser “lives’ as a Washington state corporation with its world headquarters in Washington state.
On appeal, the Court of Appeals reversed that trial court dismissal, and held that the trial court erred in not conditioning its dismissal from Washington on Weyerhaeuser’s stipulation to try the case in Arkansas state court (thereby agreeing not to remove it to federal court, where it likely would have faced long delays.)
The Washington Supreme Court held that the trial court had abused its discretion in refusing to consider the practical effect of the inevitable delays that would likely ensue should the case go through the federal court’s asbestos claims process. The case is a significant victory for not only Mr. Sales, but for many of our clients, insofar as it enables our clients to seek and obtain their day in court with much greater speed than has been possible in the federal court system in place for handling asbestos case for decades.
This decision effectively shut down corporate defendants’ practice of “forum shopping” for the best court to resolve cases on their terms, and forced many companies to defend and resolve cases in Washington state courts, which have historically afforded asbestos victims a more level playing field and a more realistic opportunity for early and fair resolution of their claims without the unnecessary expense and delay of litigating claims in the federal courts. The terms of that settlement are confidential.