By Miriam A. Friedman, J.D.
In an action arising out of an auto mechanic’s illness and death allegedly caused by his exposure to asbestos-containing products, a trial court in Pennsylvania appropriately determined that there was insufficient evidence of the decedent’s exposure to asbestos in the automotive parts manufactured, sold, or distributed by three defendant companies in the automotive industry, and that no genuine issues of fact had been raised indicating that the exposure to the defendants’ products was sufficiently frequent and regular under the frequency, regularity, and proximity test for causation in asbestos cases, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania ruled. Furthermore, the court found no merit to the assertion that the trial court erred in failing to apply the proper standard of review. Therefore, the appellate court affirmed the trial court’s decision in a non-precedential decision (Gilbert v. Advance Auto Parts, July 23, 2018, Nichols, C.).
The decedent had been an auto mechanic at Alray Tire in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania for approximately ten years, during which time, he worked on brakes and brake linings and was exposed to dust containing asbestos. Twenty years later, he was diagnosed with mesothelioma and died shortly thereafter. His wife, as executive of his estate and in her own right, sued various parties. The trial court entered orders granting summary judgment in favor of Advance Auto Parts, a/k/a Advance Stores Co., Inc. (Advance); Automotive Distribution Network, LLC (Automotive); and Ford Motor Company (Ford). The wife subsequently settled the case as to all non-bankrupt parties without prejudice, and the case against the Manville Fund was dismissed without prejudice to reopening the matter in arbitration. The wife appealed.
Advance Auto Parts. Upon review of the record, the appellate court found that there had been no direct testimony that the decedent was exposed to any asbestos-containing part supplied by either the Advanced Auto Parts store or Beacon Auto Parts, both allegedly affiliated with Advance. Rather, general assertions that the decedent’s employer would have obtained parts from one of these providers and that the brakes purchased would have contained asbestos did not provide any reasoned basis in order to determine the frequency of the decedent’s exposure to asbestos-containing parts supplied specifically by Advance. As such, because a finder of fact would have "no basis to assess whether the exposure to Advance’s products was substantial or de minimis," the court concluded that the evidence provided was too speculative to survive summary judgment.
Automotive Distribution Network. The appellate court also agreed with the trial court’s determination that there was no genuine issue of fact that Automotive supplied parts to the decedent’s employer during the mechanic’s employment. The court noted that there was no direct evidence that Automotive was affiliated with or a successor in interest to the Auto Parts Plus store that had allegedly provided parts to the employer. Thus, the court concluded that the attempt to establish such affiliation by way of a "cursory internet search" did not provide a basis for a reasonable inference in that regard.
Ford Motor Co. Finally, the appellate court found that the decedent’s wife simply failed to establish a genuine issue of fact that her husband was exposed to products associated with Ford. Distinguishing the case at bar from Rost v. Ford Motor Co., 151 A.3d 1032 (Pa. 2016) [see Products Liability Law Daily’s November 29, 2016 analysis], the appellate court pointed out that the wife had relied exclusively on Ford’s statements that "a phase-out of asbestos products did not occur in the majority of its vehicles" until shortly prior to the end of the decedent’s tenure as an employee and that "a full phase-out" did not occur until more than ten years later. Therefore, the court determined that the record did not contain sufficient information to infer that the frequency of the decedent’s contact with asbestos parts original to Ford vehicles or bearing Ford’s replacement parts was more than de minimis. That is, there was simply no evidence from which a finder of fact could reasonably assess the frequency of the decedent’s exposure to Ford products. Further, not even reaching the merits of the matter, the court concluded that the trial court had not erred in concluding that Ford could not be held liable for original parts installed on a Ford vehicle that had been manufactured by another party.
The case is Nos. 3228 EDA 2017. 3231 EDA 2017, and 3233 EDA 2017.
Attorneys: Michael Albanese (Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, P.C.) for Sharon Gilbert. Robert McCarthy Palumbos (Duane Morris LLP) for Ford Motor Co. Walter Stuart Jenkins (Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy LLC) for Automotive Distribution Network, LLC . Mark Douglas Eisler (Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, P.C.) for Advance Auto Parts a/k/a Advance Stores Co.
Companies: Ford Motor Co.; Automotive Distribution Network, LLC; Advance Auto Parts a/k/a Advance Stores Co.
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