Jurisdiction: Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles
In this asbestos action, three defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and in some cases, in the alternative, motions for summary adjudication, against plaintiff Ronald Carpenter’s claims that he was exposed to asbestos from their products.
First, defendant ZF Active Safety US Inc. argued that plaintiffs had no evidence that Carpenter was exposed to any asbestos-containing parts from ZF Active Safety. Specifically, ZF Active Safety served interrogatories asking plaintiffs to identify people with knowledge that Carpenter was exposed to asbestos from ZF Active Safety’s products. Plaintiffs responded that Carpenter was near trucks that contained asbestos-containing parts from ZF Active Safety but did not identify evidence supporting that assertion. The court determined that plaintiff’s discovery responses were factually devoid of evidence showing exposure via ZF Active Safety’s products, which shifted the burden to plaintiffs. Plaintiffs did not file an opposition and summary judgment as to ZF Active Safety was granted.
Second, defendant BWDAC, Inc. filed a motion for summary judgment, or in the alternative summary adjudication, arguing that plaintiffs had no evidence that Carpenter was exposed to any BWDAC asbestos-containing products. By way of background, BWDAC acquired assets of Borg Warner’s Automotive Aftermarket Operations division in 1981. That same year, BDWAC sold clutches under the Borg Warner trademark to the aftermarket. During his deposition, Carpenter testified that when he worked as a truck driver, the shop that repaired his trucks used Borg Warner clutches on their trucks. He knew Borg Warner clutches were being used because he observed boxes with the Borg Warner name on them in the shop. BWDAC argued that it would not have sold clutches to the shop, as it only sold Borg Warner clutches to warehouse distributors and retailers. The court, however, noted that it is entirely possible that the shop purchased its clutches from warehouse distributors or retailers. BWDAC further argued that all Borg Warner clutches observed by Carpenter were pre-1981. The court, however, pointed to the fact that Carpenter worked as a truck driver until 1999 and that BWDAC admitted it made clutches after 1981 using the Borg Warner trademark. As such, the court found that the clutches observed by Carpenter during his career could have been made by BWDAC and denied BWDAC’s motion for summary judgment.
Regarding BWDAC’s summary adjudication motion, BWDAC sought summary adjudication on plaintiff’s causes of action for fraud and conspiracy. These causes of action, in sum, stated that BWDAC “failed to disclose certain facts, known only to them,” that Carpenter could not have discovered facts regarding the existence of asbestos, and that BWDAC fraudulently concealed this information from plaintiff. BWDAC served special interrogatories to plaintiffs asking for all evidence supporting these causes of action. In response, plaintiffs recited the same allegations contained in their complaint and failed to describe specifically what false statements, representations, or concealments were made by BWDAC to Carpenter, and how Carpenter relied on such statements or concealments. For these reasons, the court granted BWDAC’s summary adjudication motion on the fraud and conspiracy causes of action.
BWDAC’s also filed a motion for summary adjudication on plaintiff’s punitive damage cause of action. BWDAC argued that plaintiffs could not show malice, fraud, or oppression by BWDAC, and served special interrogatories asking for evidence supporting the punitive damage claim. In response, plaintiffs provided information regarding Borg Warners knowledge about the hazards of asbestos and actions taken concerning its employees. Plaintiffs did not, however, provide any such information about BWDAC. In opposition to BWDAC’s motion, plaintiffs attached the 1981 Agreement for Sales of Assets by which BWDAC obtained the assets of Borg Warner’s Automotive Aftermarket Operations Division. The agreement stated that Borg Warner transferred all of the assets and business of the aftermarket division t BWDAC, and that BWDAC assumed liabilities for all obligations, including claims for injury, of the division. Plaintiffs argued that this could be interpreted to mean that BWDAC assumed the liability for post-1981 damages caused by asbestos-containing aftermarket products made by Borg Warner before 1981. The court agreed and denied BWDAC’s motion for summary adjudication on the punitive damage cause of action.
Lastly, defendant Paccar Inc. filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that plaintiffs had no evidence that Carpenter was exposed to its brakes, clutches, or gaskets because such components must necessarily be installed on certain vehicles at an assembly plant. Paccar further noted that Carpenter did not know whether the Paccar brakes, clutches, or gaskets he allegedly observed were original. The court disagreed, noting that the testimony cited by Paccar did not show that plaintiffs had no evidence that the parts were original. As such, this fact was in dispute, which necessitated the dismissal of Paccar’s summary judgment claim.
Similar to defendant BWDAC, Paccar also moved for summary adjudication on the fraud, conspiracy, and punitive damage causes of action. For the same reasons detailed above regarding the grant of BWDAC’s motions for summary adjudication on the fraud and conspiracy causes of actions, and the denial for the punitive damage cause of action, Paccar’s motions for summary adjudication had an identical result — that is, they were granted on the fraud and conspiracy causes of action and denied on the punitive damage cause of action. Paccar further sought summary adjudication on the premises liability cause of action, as there was no evidence that it owned, leased, occupied, or controlled any land where Carpenter was allegedly exposed to asbestos. The court agreed, and summary adjudication was granted on that cause of action.
Read the full decision here.