Rost v. Ford Motor Co. – Court Upholds Plaintiff Award, Clarifies “Any Exposure”

hotrods.jpgThe type of argument that can be brought against defendants in asbestos lawsuits varies greatly among jurisdictions, based on the established case law in that region.

Mesothelioma attorneys know that one of the ways in which we have seen this manifested is in the various court approaches to something called the “any exposure theory.” This is the legal and medical theory that holds no amount of exposure to asbestos is considered safe, and therefore any amount can be harmful. Using this method of logical deduction, any company that exposes a person to the substance – no matter how minimally – faces the potential for liability if that person in turn becomes sick.

Some jurisdictions have barred plaintiffs from arguing this theory in court, which has worked to the defendants’ advantage in many instances. However, other jurisdictions have ruled it reasonable, and plaintiffs continue to argue it.

But as the case of Rost, R. v. Ford Motor Company shows, even in places where the courts have banned the argument, plaintiffs continue to be successful.

Here, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania rejected an appeal from Ford Motor Co., requesting a new trial after a jury in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas awarded nearly $1 million to the plaintiff and his wife. The plaintiffs had alleged that the man’s diagnosis of mesothelioma was sufficiently predicated on his exposure to asbestos-containing brakes manufactured by Ford.

Upon appeal, Ford attorneys fought this finding, saying that the plaintiff’s had improperly relied on the “any exposure” causation theory, despite the Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s 2012 decision in Betz v. Pneumo Abex LLC , which effectively barred that argument.

A three-judge panel at the Superior Court level disagreed. The justices held that the Betz decision wasn’t applicable in the Rost case because plaintiff experts here had provided ample evidence proving Ford liable for the plaintiff’s injuries.

In penning the court’s opinion, Judge Jack Panella indicated that while it’s true that the “every exposure” argument is not in and of itself sufficient to establish legal causation – and therefore liability – the mere fact that a plaintiff’s expert witness mentions it is not cause enough to reverse a verdict. The court went on to say that in this case, the evidence was sufficient to justify the jury’s decision.

This case was first filed in 2009. He indicated that he was exposed to asbestos, a fatal carcinogen, through a number of products manufactured by not just Ford, but Westinghouse, General Electric and Ingersoll-Rand. All except Ford settled the claims.

At trial, the plaintiff revealed that in 1950, he worked at a Ford dealership for several months as a mechanic. During that time, the brakes manufactured by the company were made with up to 60 percent asbestos by weight. The plaintiff was in charge of removing the brake linings and cleaning the garage area. Both of these duties generated significant amounts of asbestos dust within the garage area, which, the plaintiff also contended, was not adequately ventilated.

The plaintiff argued that because of this exposure, Ford was at least partially responsible for his latent illness.

During trial, one of his expert witnesses, a medical doctor, testified that there were a number of case studies indicating that people who were exposed to asbestos for just one day were later diagnosed with mesothelioma or related conditions. He also pointed to animal research concluding exposure ranging from one day to one month could effectively double the risk of the subject developing the disease.

Upon appeal, Ford’s attorneys argued that the plaintiff failed to offer up competent expert opinion to justify that it was his exposure at Ford that caused his illness. To support its argument, it pointed to the Betz decision, and also that in Gregg v. V-J Auto Parts.

But the justices found that while there may have been “problems” with the expert witness opinion on causation, none of the prior opinions cited indicated it would be appropriate for the court to dismiss the action solely on that basis.

The court clarified that the Betz decision was not a requirement for judges to reject the opinion of an expert witness who testifies on the any exposure theory. Rather, what the Betz decision held was that the “any exposure” theory on its own was insufficient to establish substantial cause and therefore liability.

Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling 1-800-275-3332. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.

Additional Resources:
Rost, R. v. Ford Motor Company, May 19, 2014, Pennsylvania Superior Court

More Blog Entries:
New Life for Old Asbestos Cases? Jan. 10, 2013, Asbestos Lawsuit Blog

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