Grant of Summary Judgment Reversed as to Friction Product Manufacturers/Sellers

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Court of Appeals of Iowa, August 31, 2022   

Plaintiffs Mary and Paul Fankhauser filed a lawsuit against multiple defendants, including Honeywell International Inc. and Pneumo Abex LLC, alleging that Paul’s mesothelioma was caused by exposure to asbestos-containing products while employed by the Iowa Department of Transportation between 1968 and 2006.   

Honeywell sold asbestos-containing brake linings and brake blocks. Abex manufactured and sold asbestos-containing friction materials and clutch facings. 

Honeywell and Abex filed motions for summary judgment, claiming that Iowa Code section 686B.7(5) “limits liability to those who make or sell component parts that are the source of the asbestos exposure.”  That is, since neither defendant processed raw asbestos into chrysotile asbestos, they should not be held liable for using a product made by a third party.   

The district court granted summary judgment in favor of Honeywell and Abex. The plaintiffs appealed the court’s decision following the denial of their motion to reconsider.   

Section 686B.7(5) provides: “A defendant in an asbestos action or silica action shall not be liable for exposures from a product or component part made or sold by a third party.”  Following the district court’s ruling, the Iowa Supreme Court issued an opinion clarifying the scope of section 686B.7(5) in Beverage v. Alcoa, Inc., 975 N.W.2d 670 (Iowa 2022).  In Beverage, the district court granted summary judgment in favor of the two defendants, concluding that only the insulation manufacturer — and not the installer —could be liable under section 686B.7(5) because a third party was responsible for making and selling the asbestos-containing products. Ultimately, the Iowa Supreme Court reversed the decision, holding that the purpose of the statute was “to capture those in the line of distribution for the offending product or component part.” 

Applying the reasoning in Beverage to the instant case, the Court of Appeals found the district court’s interpretation of the statute to be improper.  Because Honeywell and Abex sold asbestos-containing products to Paul’s employer, they “made or sold” the products resulting in his exposure to asbestos and were, therefore, not shielded from liability by section 686B.7(5).  Accordingly, the grant of summary judgment in favor of Honeywell and Abex was reversed.   

Read the full decision here