PA Superior Court Affirms Entry of Summary Judgment for Three Friction Defendants

PENNSYLVANIA — The plaintiff, Sharon Gilbert, filed suit as the executive of the estate of her husband, Guy Gilbert, and in her own right, alleging decedent was exposed to asbestos while working as an auto mechanic at Alray Tire in Pittsburgh, PA from 1975 to 1985.  The plaintiff alleged that such exposure caused decedent’s mesothelioma.  The decedent was not deposed before his death.  Two witnesses, decedent’s co-worker and manager at Alray, were deposed.  The manager testified that Alray purchased replacement parts from several automotive suppliers, including defendants, Advance Auto Parts (Advance) and Automotive Distribution Network (Automotive).  Additionally, the manager testified that he ordered parts from various local Ford dealerships.  There was no specific testimony about what types of parts were ordered from these three companies.  The trial court granted summary judgment as to all three defendants on the basis that the plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence that the decedent was exposed to asbestos from auto parts supplied, distributed or manufactured by the three defendants.

After a thorough examination of the record with regard to each of the three defendants, the Pennsylvania Superior Court affirmed the entry of summary judgment as to each.  With regard to Advance, the court stated that there was no direct testimony that the decedent was exposed to an asbestos part supplied by that defendant.  Therefore, even assuming that the parts contained asbestos, a jury could not determine whether such potential exposure was substantial or de minimis without engaging in improper speculation.  As such, the court affirmed summary judgment as to Advance.  Based on the facts regarding the corporate history of Automotive, the court found that there was no direct evidence that Automotive was affiliated with or a successor in interest to the “Auto Parts Plus” store identified by the witness, and therefore affirmed summary judgment in favor of Automotive as well.  Finally, summary judgment was affirmed in favor of Ford because both witnesses stated that they did not order parts from Ford dealerships often and neither could remember whether they ordered brakes.  As such, the plaintiff failed to meet the longstanding frequency, regularity and proximity causation standard articulated by Pennsylvania courts.

Read the full case decision here.