Inaccurate Work History Leads to Appeals Court’s Dismissal of Deceased Plaintiff’s Claim

In affirmation of a lower court’s ruling, the Court of Appeals of Indiana has found that Larry Ragon, who passed away in May, had misrepresented the details of his employment with Eli Lilly & Company, for which Mr. Ragon worked from 1965 to 1996.

Several years ago, Mr. Ragon was diagnosed with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and pulmonary fibrosis. In December of 2010, he filed a claim alleging his respiratory illnesses were the result of asbestos exposure during his time with Eli Lilly & Company. When that was denied, Mr. Ragon filed an amended claim in which he stated he had asbestosis, a respiratory disease which, like mesothelioma, is primarily caused by exposure to asbestos. However, an examination by Dr. Steven Smith – Eli Lilly & Company’s occupational and environmental disease expert – could not determine the causation of Mr. Ragon’s disability, although Dr. Smith did conclude that Mr. Ragon did not have pulmonary asbestosis.

Eli Lilly & Company’s former safety director, Tom Yoder, also questioned the legitimacy of Mr. Ragon’s claim. He testified that the decedent “most certainly was not exposed to sufficient quantities of airborne and respirable asbestos fibers” to have contracted asbestosis.

Dr. Robert Daly, Mr. Ragon’s expert, had been led to believe that the plaintiff was primarily a pipefitter for Eli Lilly & Company, although Mr. Ragon had worked in numerous departments during his time with the company, including the carpenter shop, paint shop, and sheet metal shop.

This failure to be completely forthright led Judge Diana Parsons to conclude that Mr. Ragon had intentionally misrepresented his work history with Eli Lilly & Company. “The plaintiff is an inaccurate historian,” said Parsons. “This adversely affects his credibility as a witness.”

Ultimately, whether or not Mr. Ragon was exposed to asbestos while working at Eli Lilly & Company is not the issue; rather, Mr. Ragon’s inability to prove that he was exposed to enough of the toxin to develop asbestosis – or that he had the disease to begin with – was what led the appeals court to affirm the lower court’s ruling.

“Lilly’s stipulation that some of its buildings contained asbestos did not relieve [Mr. Ragon] of the burden to show that he was suffering from asbestosis,” wrote Judge John G. Baker in the court’s explanation.

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