Ford Motor Company attempted this month to evade a $9.1 million mesothelioma judgement. However, the judge on the case was not sympathetic to the company’s arguments.
Delaware Superior Court Judge Ferris W. Wharton rejected arguments from the automotive company that it was not treated well in court and deserved to have a new trial set. The mesothelioma cancer case concerned the death of Larry Knecht. He was a mechanic in New Mexico whose death in 2014 was found to be due to excessive exposure to brakes and clutches that contained asbestos fibers. The products in question were manufactured by Ford and several other companies. (Bloomberglaw.com).
The judge’s decision about the Ford case came eight months after a trial of 16 months that ended with a jury offering widow Paula Knecht with $40 million in compensatory damages. Although Ford was found to only be responsible for 20% of the damages, the company argued that the legal team for Knecht did not provide enough evidence that the company was responsible for the worker’s death. They also objected to instructions of causation that were supplied to the jury.
The judge rebutted this argument by noting that Ford had made this argument during the trial but the decision had not been in their favor. The judge added that the renewed motion was no different from the previous motions. The court thus denied it for the same reasons to denied the earlier motions.
Ford Argument – Jury Inflamed by Testimony
The auto company also contended that the amount of the verdict was far too high. It argued that the jury had been influenced by Knecht’s attorneys, who allegedly incited passion, prejudice and bias in the closing argument. The company further stated the admission of evidence of notice caused the jury to become inflamed and affected the verdict.
But the judge disagreed again. He pointed out that is personal observations of the trial and the verdict sheet the jury presented showed no such evidence. Also, the fact that Ford Motor Company only was assigned 20% of the blame made that argument moot. The judge added that the jury determined that Mr. Knecht was more responsible than Ford because he worked in an occupation where there was a risk of asbestos exposure. The jury actually assigned him more responsibility for his disease than the company. Thus, this made it hard to believe that the jury had been consumed by prejudice, passion or corruption.
Other Recent Automotive-Related Mesothelioma Verdicts
Ford Motor Company is not the only entity that has been beset by legal woes due to asbestos contained in its products. A three week trial in a Little Rock federal courtroom last month resulted in the jury awarding $18.5 million to the loved ones of a man who worked at a city brake shop in the 1970s. There he was exposed to high levels of asbestos in brake shoe linings.
The verdict was against Honeywell International, Inc., which purchased years ago Allied Signal, a company that bought Bendix in 1984. That company was one of the original makers of brake shoe linings in the US. When Honeywell purchased Allied Signal, it also purchased all of the liabilities of that company.
The case was tried on behalf of the estate of Ronald Thomas, who formerly lived in Arkansas. He developed mesothelioma in March 2017 and died at the end of that year at the age of 72. The attorney noted that he was disappointed that Ford Motor Company also was not held liable for his client’s terrible suffering and death. Ford was the manufacturer of some of the vehicles on which Thomas worked. But other American car companies had already been absolved of liability for asbestos due to bankruptcy filings many years ago.
Thomas was employed at Stuart’s Brake Shop in Little Rock from 1971 until 1983. It was reported that he did 10 to 12 brake jobs every day during some weeks. His attorney noted that the shop, which still exists, was owned at that time by Stuart Flanders, but it now has other owners. He also noted that Thomas moved to Texas in 1984 and was living in Midland when he was diagnosed with mesothelioma. (ArkansasOnline.com).
The attorney on the case said that he does not expect an appeal to come from Honeywell because there was a negotiated settlement before the verdict.
18.75% Blame Assigned to Honeywell
The verdict came at the end of January 2019, and Chief US District Judge Brian Miller assigned 18.75% of the blame to Honeywell. Jurors also determined that Ronald Thomas was 5% to blame. Two other companies – Pneumo Abex LLC and Genuine Parts Co., also known as Napa, each had 9.375% of the blame. Jurors also attributed 58% of blame to other unnamed parties.
The jury awarded $216,000 for the loss of Thomas’ life, $5 million for pain and suffering, and $342,000 for medical costs. His wife is deceased, but the couple had a son and two daughters, all of whom reside in Texas. Each party was awarded $1 million for their anguish. The jury also decided the company owed $10 million in punitive damages. The jury stated that it found through clear and convincing evidence that Honeywell knew or should have known that its business conduct would result in injury, and it continued that conduct with reckless disregard.
About Mesothelioma and Its Ties to the Automotive Industry
Mesothelioma is a fatal, painful cancer of the lung linings. It also can affect the linings of other organs including the intestines and heart. The disease is common in the automotive industry; many automotive companies used asbestos as a heat absorbing material in many car parts, such as brake shoes and pads for decades. Many companies were well aware of the dangers of asbestos to workers, but they continued to use it. The disease can take up to 50 years to develop after exposure. Asbestos fibers are inhaled into the lungs and lead to genetic errors in the body. Eventually the coating that lets the lungs slide over the ribs thickens with cancer and scar tissue until it is painful to breathe.
- $18.5 Million Awarded Over Fatal Asbestos Exposure. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.arkansasonline.com/news/2019/jan/31/18-5m-awarded-over-fatal-asbestos-expos/
- Ford Can’t Topple $9.1 Million Asbestos Jury Award. (2019). Retrieved from https://news.bloomberglaw.com/product-liability-and-toxics-law/ford-cant-topple-9-1m-asbestos-jury-award