Morrison v. Ford Motor Company
2011 – Law360 New York
A Los Angeles jury sided with Ford Motor Co. and two others in an asbestos suit seeking more than $25 million, finding the trio's products were not substantially to blame for the plaintiff's mesothelioma, Ford's attorneys said Friday.
Chester and Diane Morrison's suit initially targeted more than 60 companies, but only Ford, Dana Cos. LLC and Crane Co. remained during the five-week trial in California state court, which wrapped up May 20, according to the defendants' attorneys.
The suit claimed that Chester Morrison, who worked as a truck driver and mechanic for more than 35 years, had been exposed to asbestos while fixing up Ford vehicles and through contact with Crane's valves and Dana's clutches and gaskets. Morrison said he had performed thousands of brake jobs on Ford vehicles in his lifetime.
"The jury found that Mr. Morrison was exposed to asbestos from Ford, Dana and Crane but that there was no defect in the design of the defendants' products," attorneys for the defendants said in a statement.
Ford, Dana and Crane had told the jury Chester Morrison's mesothelioma had actually been caused by his exposure to amosite-containing thermal insulation aboard the USS Everett F. Larson and USS Lyman K. Swensen while he served in the U.S. Navy between 1959 and 1963.
According to the defendants, amosite asbestos is far more hazardous than the chrysotile asbestos found in their own products.
Ford had also argued that it had behaved responsibly after learning that asbestos-containing friction products, such as brakes, clutches and gaskets, could pose a health hazard. The company said it researched the issue and provided warnings about the potential dangers of asbestos.
After a day and a half of deliberations, the jury found in favor of the defendants on May 20.
The Morrisons had asked the jury to award about $1 million in economic damages, $24 million in non-economic damages, and punitive damages, the defendants' attorneys said.
Attorneys for the Morrisons did not immediately respond to requests for comment Friday.
Ford's attorney Alexander Calfo said Friday the trial had been particularly challenging because the mesothelioma victim involved was alive and in the courtroom. Diane Morrison, who suffered a blood clot and had her leg amputated, was also present, and the plaintiff's attorneys had asked the jury to consider who would take care of her if Chester Morrison died, Calfo said.
It is unusual for Ford and others to try cases brought by asbestos victims who are still living, Calfo said, making the May 20 verdict especially significant.
Calfo added that Ford was able to cast a new light on potentially damning documents from the 1970s that plaintiffs used to allege poor conduct by the automaker. Ford's attorneys argued that the documents showed the company handled asbestos issues openly and candidly.
"I think we turned those documents into a positive for us," Calfo said. "I think that was a big reason we won."
Ford earlier battled similar allegations on the other side of the country.
A Delaware jury awarded $2 million to Roland Grenier Sr., a former auto mechanic who said dust from brake shoes manufactured by Ford and General Motors Corp. caused mesothelioma. The Delaware Supreme Court upheld the verdict in August 2009.
Grenier, an auto mechanic for 36 years, filed the suit against Ford and numerous other companies after he was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 2005. He alleged their friction products wrongfully exposed him to chrysotile asbestos.
The Morrisons are represented by Trey Jones and Patrick O'Hara of The Lanier Law Firm.
Ford is represented by Yukevich | Cavanaugh. Dana is represented by William Sayers and Susan Gilefsky of McKenna Long & Aldridge LLP. Crane is represented by Geoffrey Davis and Brendan Tuohy of K&L Gates LLP.
The case is Morrison et al. v. Alfa Laval Inc. et al., case number BC441029, in the Superior Court of California, County of Los Angeles.