Brake Grinding Machine Manufacturer Granted Summary Judgment on Lack of Product Nexus

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

In this asbestos action, plaintiff Shelley Droz alleged that decedent Eric Droz developed mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos from using an AMMCO brake arcing machine and grinder. Defendant Hennessey moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff had not established that the decedent was exposed to asbestos from products attributable to Hennessey. The plaintiff contended that the process of grinding brake drums and linings manufactured by three distinct companies was a dusty process, which was dusty “to such an extent that the AMMCO grinder had a dust bag attached.” The plaintiff asserted that this process was hazardous to the decedent as “a majority of brakes used in the early 1980s contained asbestos.”

The court ultimately granted Hennessey’s motion. At the outset, the court acknowledged that there was no allegation that AMMCO’s brake arcing machine and grinder contained asbestos. As a result, the plaintiff’s allegation stems from exposure to asbestos from asbestos-containing brakes, and not from the AMMCO products themselves. Specifically, the plaintiff argued that the arc grinders “inherently and invariably posed the danger of asbestos exposure, because AMMCO knew that a majority of brakes in use in the early 1980s contained asbestos to such an extent that the product’s dust collection system was referred to as an asbestos dust collector.”

The court concluded that Hennessey was entitled to summary judgment under Stigliano v. Westinghouse. As per Stigliano, there must be direct or circumstantial evidence that links the plaintiff to the defendant’s asbestos-containing product when the defendant manufactured both asbestos-containing and non asbestos-containing types of the same product. In this matter, the plaintiff proffered evidence that the three brake manufacturers produced asbestos-containing brakes in the 1970s. In addition, the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Barry Castleman, opined that “the use of asbestos in brake linings in the 1970s was near universal.” However, the court explained that the phrase “near universal” shows that not all brake linings during that time contained asbestos. The court also noted that the design of the AMMCO machines allowed the machines to reshape any brake shoe friction material, regardless of its asbestos content. As such, the court held that “although the plaintiff generally identified the manufacturers of brake shoes the decedent encountered … the record is devoid of any testimony linking his work to a particular manufacturer’s brake or even an asbestos-containing brake.” Thus, the court granted Hennessey’s summary judgment motion.

Read the full decision here.