Date of Verdict: May 16.
Court and Case No.: C.P. Philadelphia No. 110902072; 111004282; 120302064.
Judge: D. Webster Keogh.
Type of Action: Products liability; asbestos.
Plaintiffs Counsel: Alfred M. Anthony, Wilentz, Goldman & Spitzer, Woodbridge, N.J.; Michael B. Leh, Locks Law Firm, Philadelphia.
Defense Counsel: Sharon L. Caffrey and Lawrence E. Currier Duane Morris, Philadelphia, for Ford Motor; Shepherd D. Wainger, McGuireWoods, Norfolk, Va., for Ford Motor; No attorney reported for Burnham Corp., Carrier Corp., Columbia Boiler Co. of Pottstown Inc., Crane Corp., Dana Cos., Honeywell International Inc., K&G Speed Associates Inc., NAPA of Newtown Square, Pacifico Marple LLC, Peerless Industries Inc., Performance Industries Inc., Prestolite Wire LLC, SDA Inc., The Pep Boys—Manny, Moe & Jack, Trane U.S. Inc., Weil-McClain.
Plaintiffs Experts: Dr. Arthur L. Frank, occupational medicine, Philadelphia; Dr. Anna T. Meadows, oncology, Philadelphia; Dr. Harvey Specter, pathology, Chester, Pa.
Defense Experts: Dr. Lucian R. Chirieac, radiation therapy, Boston; Fionna S. Mowat, environmental assessments, Menlo Park, Calif.; Dr. Victor Roggli, pathology, Durham, N.C.; Dr. Jane Teta, epidemiology, Southbury, Conn.
Comment: From 1977 to 1979, plaintiff Joseph Salerno studied auto and diesel mechanics at his Philadelphia-area high school’s vocational-technical program.
Salerno claimed that throughout the course of the program, he was exposed to asbestos-containing brakes, clutches and gaskets that were manufactured and distributed by Ford Motor Co. and other companies.
In 2011, Salerno, then in his early 50s, was diagnosed with mesothelioma.
Salerno sued Ford for claims of products liability, on a theory of failure to warn. A number of other companies were originally named as defendants in the suit; the claims against those entities either were dismissed or concluded via dispositions involving undisclosed terms, prior to trial, which proceeded solely against Ford.
Salerno’s counsel maintained that Ford failed to provide adequate warnings on its brake products detailing the hazards of asbestos exposure.
The plaintiffs expert in occupational medicine opined that the brakes produced by Ford emitted dust that contained respirable asbestos fibers to which Salerno was exposed throughout his years in the vocational-technical program. The expert concluded that the airborne fibers released from the Ford products contained high levels of chrysotile asbestos, which were thousands of times more concentrated than what exists in the general atmosphere.
According to defense counsel, Salerno participated in the vocational-technical program for half-days during his first year, and the last two years he was in the diesel shop, which, according to a fact witness, contained no brakes, gaskets and clutches—products that contained chrysotile, the least carcinogenic asbestos. Therefore, according to Ford’s expert in exposure assessment, given Salerno’s schedule, his asbestos exposure was minimal, and this was coupled with the fact that any asbestos emission was in nonfibrous form—as opposed to respirable fibers—which carry de minimis levels of asbestos.
Following his diagnosis of mesothelioma, Salerno underwent ongoing courses of chemotherapy and radiation treatment, which initially proved successful, but toward the commencement of trial, Salerno suffered a decline in his condition that limited him to only attend one day of trial. Salerno, who is expected never to return to work, sought to recover $900,000 to $1.5 million in economic damages for lost earnings and benefits and about $350,000 in medical costs. He sought to recover unspecified amounts in noneconomic damages for past and future pain and suffering.
Salerno’s wife, who sought to recover damages for a claim of loss of consortium, testified that Salerno initially responded well to the cancer treatment and appeared to be cancer-free, but in early 2014, he relapsed, which caused him to rely on the use of a wheelchair, due to severe weakness.
Salerno’s experts in occupational medicine and pathology, who looked at his lung tissue, concluded that Salerno’s mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to asbestos.
In 1976 and 1977, Salerno treated with chemotherapy and radiation treatment for Hodgkin’s disease, which, according to medical research, put him at risk for developing a secondary tumor.
Salerno’s counsel maintained that his lung cancer was not a form of secondary cancer, since there was not enough evidence to link the radiation treatment he had as a teen to mesothelioma, but the result of his exposure to asbestos. Salerno’s pediatric oncologist discussed her treatment of Salerno and said that Salerno’s mesothelioma was the first that she had seen in which a patient had originally suffered Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
The defense’s expert in radiation therapy, a pathologist who has published studies about radiation-induced mesothelioma versus asbestos-induced mesothelioma, opined that Salerno, given his cancer and radiation-treatment history, fits into the characteristics of an individual whose mesothelioma was induced by radiation treatment. In a similar study, the defense’s expert in epidemiology testified that she found that the therapeutic radiation that Salerno received significantly increased his chances of developing a secondary tumor, which he did in the form of mesothelioma.
Ford’s expert in pathology, who conducted a fiber-burden analysis of Salerno’s lung tissue, discussed how asbestos is naturally occurring and can be found in the ambient atmosphere. The expert testified that high levels of amosite and crocidolite asbestos would be found in the lungs of shipyard workers, whereas in auto-repair workers, like Salerno, background levels of asbestos would be found, since an automotive setting full of brakes and clutches does not increase the risk to mesothelioma.
After a two-week trial, the jury determined that Salerno failed to prove that any exposure to Ford’s asbestos-containing products caused his mesothelioma.
— This report first appeared in VerdictSearch, an ALM publication •