Summary Judgment • Asbestos • “Apparent Manufacturer”

Smith v. Ford Motor Co., PICS Case No. 14-0115 (C.P. Philadelphia, Jan. 24, 2014) New, J. (12 pages).

The court affirmed orders granting summary judgment in favor of defendants in this product liability case involving asbestos exposure.

Plaintiff was the executrix of the estate of Paul Rowland. Rowland had commenced this action in September 2011, claiming he developed mesothelioma as the result of inhaling asbestos-containing dust from automotive parts. He alleged that defendants directly or indirectly manufactured, produced, sold or supplied some of the automotive parts that caused his illness.

Rowland spent his childhood and young adult years in England. Most of his exposure to asbestos from automotive parts occurred during those that time. Rowland’s father worked as an auto mechanic and Rowland was exposed to the dust when he visited his father at the garage or came into contact with his person or clothing. The clutches and brakes used by Rowland’s father in his garage were manufactured and supplied by British companies that were subsidiaries of defendants.

Rowland’s only known exposure to asbestos-containing automotive parts in the U.S. was when he purchased a Ford Mustang in approximately 1990 and had a problem with the brakes, which he inspected himself.

Plaintiff claimed the defendants were the apparent manufacturers of the automotive parts and sought to pierce the corporate veil. The court held plaintiff did not demonstrate that the British manufacturers were the alter ego of defendants. Ford of Britain was a fully operational company with its own research and development centers in the United Kingdom. It maintained its own separate books, records, financial statements and bank accounts. Likewise, Borg & Beck Britain was a separate entity from Borg Warner, which was also a defendant in this litigation.

The court found an insufficient basis for holding defendants liable for the asbestos-containing automotive parts Rowland’s father had used and to which Rowland had been exposed in England.

The court held Rowland’s exposure to asbestos in the U.S. was de minimis compared to his alternative sources of exposure. The record indicated Rowland was exposed to asbestos through daily direct contact with his father and his father’s work clothes, and from regular after-school visits to his father’s workplace. Because his exposure to asbestos-containing particles in products that were actually manufactured in the U.S. by defendants was minimal, the court affirmed summary judgment in favor of defendants.