Lack of Causation Leads to Grant of Summary Judgment for Friction Defendant in Lung Cancer Case

NEW YORK – The plaintiff, Glen Schrank, sued multiple defendants, including Ford Motor alleging that he developed lung cancer from his work as an automobile mechanic from approximately 1972-1991. Schrank smoked Parliament filtered cigarettes beginning in 1966 and smoked between one and one and a half packs per day. Ford moved for an order precluding the plaintiff’s expert witnesses or in the alternative a Frye Reed hearing. In support of its position, Ford offered an affidavit from Dr. Anil Vachani. Dr. Vachani’s testimony illustrated various epidemiological studies between exposure to various risk factors and the development of lung cancer. One factor showed that 80-90 percent of lung cancers are attributable to smoking. Dr. Vachani also reviewed the Analytical Epidemiological Studies of Vehicle and Brake Mechanics and Lung Cancer and found that brake mechanics are exposed to chrysotile fibers. However, studies failed to show an increased risk for lung cancer among vehicle mechanics. Yet another study that Ford relied upon, showed that chrysotile fibers are less potent than amphiboles. Moreover, workers like Schrank were predominantly exposed to short chrysotile fibers. Ford’s experts also opined that Schrank’s lung cancer was caused by his smoking and not from exposure to any Ford product. Dr. Paustenbach also testified as an expert for Ford. He opined that vehicle mechanics are not at any greater risk of developing asbestos related diseases than the general public. In sum, he believed that exposure to chrysotile asbestos associated with vehicle repair work, as well as handling packing and friction products are very low. The court was satisfied that Ford showed its products could not have contributed to the development of Schrank’s lung cancer. The plaintiff countered with the opinions of Dr. Brent Staggs. He opined that the plaintiff’s cumulative exposure to asbestos was a significant contributing factor in the development of lung cancer. Another plaintiff expert, Schachter, offered the opinion that his lung cancer was caused by asbestos exposure in conjunction with his smoking.

The court began its analysis and stated that “an expert opinion on causation must set forth

  1. A plaintiff’s exposure to a toxin
  2. That the toxin is capable of causing the particular injuries suffered (general causation)
  3. That the plaintiff was exposed to sufficient levels of the toxin to cause such injuries (specific causation).

According to the court, it is not enough to show that a plaintiff was exposed to a particular defendant’s product. Rather, a plaintiff must also show that he was exposed to sufficient levels of the toxin from the defendant’s products to have caused the disease. The court quickly concluded that the plaintiff’s experts failed to provide any basis for their opinions that the plaintiff’s work as an automobile mechanic and alleged exposure to each of Ford’s products caused the plaintiff’s lung cancer. Specifically, Dr. Schachter made no responses to the numerous epidemiological studies relied upon by the defendant’s experts. Accordingly, Ford’s motion for summary judgment was granted.

Read the case decision here.