Federal Court Grants Summary Judgment on Failure to Warn Claims U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Ohio, Eastern Division, April 4, 2017
Plaintiff Gail Hart, executor of the estate of the decedent Alva Coykendall (the plaintiff), filed suit alleging that her husband worked with a substantial amount of asbestos-containing brake and clutch friction materials manufactured by various defendants. Prior to his death, Coykendall was deposed and testified that he did work as an uncertified mechanic from approximately 1972 through 2014. Coykendall further specified he performed work on brakes and clutches which included exposure to brake dust when working on vehicles that did not require a full brake change. Coykendall estimated to changing clutches on vehicles between “one hundred and twenty and one thousand times.” He was diagnosed with mesothelioma in July 2014 and passed away eight months later.
Several defendants filed for summary judgment on the basis of, among other things, that the plaintiff failed to prove that the defendants’ alleged failure to warn or inadequate were the proximate cause of his injuries. This Court addressed failure to warn claims under Ohio Revised Code §2307.76(A)(1) which states that a product is “defective due to inadequate warning or instruction at the time of marketing if, when it left control of the manufacturer, both of the following applied:
(a) the manufacturer knew or, in the exercise of reasonable care, should have known about a risk that is associated with the product and that allegedly caused harm for which the claimant seeks to recover compensatory damages; and
(b) the manufacturer failed to provide the warning or instruction that a manufacturer exercising reasonable care would have provided concerning that risk, in light of the likelihood that the product would cause harm of the type for which the claimant seeks to recover compensatory damages and in light of the likely seriousness of the harm.
In the case at bar, Colykendall testified during his deposition that he did not read any of the warnings that were on the parts he used as a mechanic, and that he “probably” would not have changed his practices based upon any warnings that would have been provided. Therefore, Coykendall’s own testimony provided affirmative and uncontradicted evidence rebutting the general presumption of causation in this case.
The court further noted that once defendants have provided some evidence to rebut the presumption of causation, plaintiffs “may not rest upon the mere allegations or denials of the adverse party’s pleading, but the adverse party’s response, by affidavits or as otherwise provided in this rule, must set forth specific facts showing that there is a genuine issue for trial.” See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(e). The mere existence of a scintilla of evidence in support of the plaintiff’s position is insufficient; there must be evidence on which the jury could reasonably find for the plaintiff. [Citation Omitted].
In this case, however, the plaintiffs provided absolutely no testimony or other evidence that would suggest that a warning, of any type, would have caused Mr. Coykendall to stop using the asbestos containing products, or caused him to use any additional precautions to avoid exposure to any asbestos containing dust emanating from these products. Rather, the plaintiffs simply asked the court to find that the mere existence of a rebuttable presumption, is sufficient as a matter of law to preclude summary judgment no matter what evidence may exist to rebut that presumption. They cited no law to support this proposition.
The court ultimately found that there was no evidence that could support a finding that any warning provided by the defendants in this case would have altered Coykendall’s exposure to or interactions with the asbestos containing products. As a matter of law, therefore, he could not prove that the alleged failure to warn or inadequate warnings were the proximate cause of his injury. Therefore, summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendants on the claim of inadequate warning or instruction.