421 N.E.2d 864 (Ill. 1981), 52484, Nolan v. Johns-manville Asbestos

Docket Nº:52484.
Citation:421 N.E.2d 864, 85 Ill.2d 161, 52 Ill.Dec. 1
Party Name:Billie Irene NOLAN, Adm'x, Appellee, v. JOHNS-MANVILLE ASBESTOS et al., Appellants.
Case Date:February 20, 1981
Court:Supreme Court of Illinois
 
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Page 864

421 N.E.2d 864 (Ill. 1981)

85 Ill.2d 161, 52 Ill.Dec. 1

Billie Irene NOLAN, Adm'x, Appellee,

v.

JOHNS-MANVILLE ASBESTOS et al., Appellants.

No. 52484.

Supreme Court of Illinois.

February 20, 1981.

As Modified June 17, 1981.

Page 865

[85 Ill.2d 162] [52 Ill.Dec. 2] Hinshaw, Culbertson, Moelmann, Hoban & Fuller and Baker & McKenzie, [85 Ill.2d 163] Chicago (Thomas J. Weithers, Stanley J. Davidson, Frederick S. Mueller, Francis D. Morrissey, Harry J. O'Kane, and Daniel J. Cheely, Chicago, of counsel), for appellants.

William J. Harte, Ltd., Chicago (William J. Harte, Janet Gerske, and John J. Lowrey, Chicago, of counsel), for appellee.

CLARK, Justice:

The plaintiff's decedent, Edwin L. Nolan, Jr., filed a complaint, sounding in strict liability, in the circuit court of Cook County on May 9, 1975. The complaint alleged, [85 Ill.2d 164] inter alia, that the defendants manufactured, sold and distributed asbestos, fiberglass and related products which were unreasonably dangerous because the containers were not adequately labeled so as to warn of foreseeable and known dangers associated with their use, because the defendants failed to warn of the known likelihood of contracting asbestosis due to prolonged exposure and use of the products, and because the defendants failed to provide protective equipment. On a motion joined by all the defendants, and after notice and hearing, the circuit court granted summary judgment for all defendants, on the basis that Nolan's cause of action was barred by the two-year statute of limitations (Ill.Rev.Stat.1977, ch. 83, par. 15).

Nolan appealed. During the pendency of that appeal, he died. His wife was substituted as special administratrix to prosecute the appeal. The Appellate Court for the First District reversed the judgment of the circuit court and remanded the cause for further proceedings. (74 Ill.App.3d 778, 30 Ill.Dec. 871, 392 N.E.2d 1352.) We allowed leave to appeal. (73 Ill.2d R. 315.) We affirm.

The facts are amply set forth in the appellate court opinion. A summary will suffice here. Edwin L. Nolan, Jr., was employed as an asbestos insulator from 1941 to May 11, 1973, with the exception of time spent in military service from 1943 to 1946. In 1957, Nolan became aware of shortness of breath and increasing difficulty climbing stairs. He underwent a chest X ray administered by the Suburban Tuberculosis Sanitarium, which showed he did not have tuberculosis, but indicated that he had "lung problems." Nolan consulted his family doctor, Robert Muench. Dr. Muench examined Nolan, ordered some X rays taken, and confirmed the sanitarium's statement that Nolan had lung problems, but he did not elaborate further. Dr. Muench referred Nolan to a psychiatrist, Dr. Monty Meldmann. Meldmann conducted a physical examination and ordered more X rays taken. He also told [85 Ill.2d 165] Nolan that he had lung problems, but told Nolan he thought his problem was partly psychological as well.

Nolan again sought Dr. Muench's advice in 1965, when he noticed that his earlier complaints were becoming more pronounced. Nolan was admitted to St. Joseph's Hospital in Elgin, where he underwent a physical examination, pulmonary function tests, and chest X rays. During Dr. Muench's deposition, he read the reported findings of the hospital's X-ray department:

"The findings suggest a generalized pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial inflammatory process. Pneumoconiosis is a consideration to be correlated with the occupational history. Chronic interstitial pneumonia, sarcoidosis, and pulmonary fungus disease are other considerations to be correlated with the clinical and laboratory data.

The accentuated findings at the left anterior lower lung field may represent a supraimposed acute inflammation. Comparison

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[52 Ill.Dec. 3] to previous chest x-rays will be of value."

Dr. Muench testified during the course of the deposition that, while usually test findings and their causes are discussed with patients, he could not recall whether he had discussed the foregoing findings with Nolan. Nolan testified that Dr. Muench told him he had pulmonary fibrosis, but did not indicate any causal connection between his condition and his occupation. Nolan testified further that Dr. Muench told him there was nothing the doctor could do for him.

Nolan sought further medical attention from the Veteran's Administration Hospital after his discharge from St. Joseph's Hospital. He was told he was receiving competent treatment from Dr. Muench and was refused admittance to the hospital.

Sometime after 1968, the international union to which Nolan belonged...

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