Several Automotive Parts Manufacturers and Tractor Manufacturer Granted Summary Judgment on Various Grounds

The plaintiffs in this federal court case alleged that the decedent, Douglas Hayes, died from mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos “while living on the family farm in the following ways: (1) secondary exposure from father’s clothing from birth to the late 1960s, (2) while working on three Case [CNH] tractors, (3) and by being exposed to asbestos containing products such as gaskets, packing, valves and pumps. Mr. Hayes also alleges that he was exposed to asbestos from other products either manufactured or supplied by co-defendants, Ford Motor Company, Toyota Motor Sales and Honeywell International (successor-in-interest to Bendix Corporation) while working as a salesman at the Bubba Oustalet Dealership (‘dealership’) from 1993 through early 2000.”

In multiple decisions, the motions for summary judgment by the defendants Ford Motor Company, Honeywell International, Inc., Toyota Motor Sales USA, Inc., and CNH America, LLC were granted as follows:

Defendant CNH moved for summary judgment on the grounds that there was no evidence that its valve cover gaskets contained asbestos and that there was insufficient evidence that its oil pan gaskets exposed the decedent to asbestos in any way that substantially caused his illness and death. The court agreed, stating: “There is no genuine issue of material fact that the valve cover gaskets were not the source of asbestos because they were made of cork material.” Regarding the oil pan gaskets, the court held: “There is no evidence or testimony in the record to prove that Mr. Hayes inhaled or was exposed to asbestos from his handling of the oil pan gaskets. Mr. Hayes’ deposition testimony only states that they ‘didn’t have to be changed very much …’ He does not explain or suggest how he handled the oil pan gaskets, nor does he suggest that the oil pan gaskets created dust and that he inhaled that dust.”

Read the full decision here.

Toyota moved for summary judgment, arguing the plaintiffs failed to meet the product identification and causation elements of their claim, because they could not place Mr. Hayes in contact with a Toyota product. The court set forth that under Louisiana law, “plaintiff must prove the following under the Louisiana Products Liability Act (‘LPLA’): 1. The defendant is the manufacturer of the product. 2. The claimant’s damage was proximately caused by a characteristic of the product. 3. This characteristic made the product unreasonably dangerous. 4. The claimant’s damages arose from a reasonably anticipated use of the product by the claimant or someone else.” The court subsequently granted Toyota’s motion, holding that the “plaintiffs have failed to identify a Toyota product that contained asbestos that caused and/or was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Hayes’ illness. The court further holds that the warnings and instructions from OSHA and Ford Motor Company as well as Mr. Oustalet’s testimony that he relied on his service technicians to read and follow said instructions and warnings, is sufficient for this court to conclude that any use of the blow out brake drum procedure was not a reasonably anticipated use of Toyota’s product.”

Read the full decision here.

Both Honeywell and Ford moved for summary judgment on product identification and exposure and causation grounds, as well as on the “reasonable anticipated use” under LPLA. The court granted their motions on all grounds. On the product identification issue, the court ruled: “Product identification is a threshold element of plaintiff’s proof. The court finds that there is no evidence in the record to meet this element of proof. Establishing that Oustalet is a Ford dealership and that the dealership sold some vehicles that contained asbestos parts is insufficient to meet the product identification element. The court cannot presume that because the dealership sold vehicles that had brake parts containing asbestos, and Mr. Hayes visited the service department on occasion for brief intervals, does not equate to Mr. Hayes being exposed to asbestos from Bendix or Ford-supplied brake parts.” On the reasonable anticipated use ground, the court held “Honeywell and Ford are correct in that there is no evidence in the record that the mechanics were using an aerosolized spray as expressed by Dr. Longo, and if there was this procedure was also not a reasonably anticipated use of the defendants’ products.”

Read the full decisions here.