Brake Manufacturer Obtains Summary Judgment on Causation and Punitive Damages Grounds

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Mississippi, Southern Division

In this action, the plaintiffs allege that Mr. Dickens was exposed to asbestos from his work with brakes and clutches manufactured by Defendant, Ford Motor Co. Ford moved for summary judgment on causation and punitive damages grounds. Ultimately, the court granted both motions and dismissed the plaintiff’s complaint against Ford with prejudice.

With regard to the causation issue, the court first noted that the Mississippi State Court has adopted the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” test pursuant to Gorman-Rupp Co. v. Hall. Under the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” test, a plaintiff must show “exposure to a particular product on a regular basis over an extended period of time and in proximity to where the plaintiff actually worked.” Thereafter, the court analyzed several cases where Mississippi courts and courts of other jurisdictions determined that the plaintiffs had satisfied the causation standard, as well cases where the courts determined that the plaintiffs failed to show regular exposure to satisfy the causation standard.

In the instant matter, Mr. Dickens testified that he performed brake or clutch jobs with Ford products 20-25 times while working at a gas station beginning in 1973. The plaintiff argued that Mr. Dickens’s testimony shows further exposure to asbestos from Ford products. Specifically, Mr. Dickens testified that he performed two brake and 4-5 clutch jobs per week while in school, as well as 8-10 brake and 3-9 clutch jobs per week during the summer. The court found that this matter was most similar to three other matters. In Lohrmann, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit held that “exposure to an asbestos-containing product ten to fifteen times over the course of employment failed to raise a permissible inference of causation.” In Winhauer, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware found that “testimony regarding general occupational work with and around asbestos-containing products” was insufficient to meet the causation standard. In Malone, the United States District Court for the District of Delaware also found that up to ten instances of insulating generators, which was a “small part of [plaintiff’s] work” failed to meet the causation standard. As such, the court found that Plaintiffs failed to meet the causation standard, and as a result, no genuine issue of material fact existed as to Ford.  

The court also agreed with Ford’s punitive damages argument. While the court noted that Mississippi law generally “disfavors” punitive damages, the court held that the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim must be dismissed as the court found that the substantive claims fail as a matter of law.