Petitpas v. Ford Motor Company
A Los Angeles jury came back on Tuesday with a defense verdict in favor of Ford Motor Company and another defendant in what appears to be a case of first impression in the pervasive world of asbestos litigation. This was one of the first cases to go to trial in which plaintiffs argued that merely being a bystander or companion to a person who performed limited automotive repair work could increase that person’s risk of developing mesothelioma.
Plaintiffs Joseph Petitpas and Marline Petitpas, represented by Simona Farrise (of The Farrise Law Firm) and Anthony Vieira (of The Law Offices of Anthony Vieira), sued more than 30 companies alleging that Mrs. Petitpas’s exposure to asbestos was the cause of her malignant mesothelioma. At trial, only two defendants remained: Ford Motor Company and Exxon Mobil Corporation.
Ford Motor Company was represented by James Yukevich and Steven Smelser of Yukevich Calfo & Cavanaugh. Exxon Mobil Corporation was represented by Jayme Long and Frederic Norris of McKenna Long & Aldridge.
During the five week trial, plaintiffs argued that Mrs. Petitpas was exposed to asbestos dust during visits to a gas station at which her husband worked part-time in 1965 and 1966. Specifically, plaintiffs claimed that Mrs. Petitpas was exposed to asbestos dust from various automotive brakes, clutches and gaskets, including Ford-brand parts, during these visits. Plaintiffs claimed that Mrs. Petitpas was further exposed to such asbestos dust from laundering her husband’s work clothes as well as from his automotive repair work on personal Ford vehicles in the 1960s and 1970s. According to plaintiffs and their expert witnesses, these exposures were a substantial factor increasing Mrs. Petitpas’s risk of developing mesothelioma. Plaintiffs relied heavily on medical and scientific literature that was either outdated or completely unrelated to friction products in an effort to convince the jury exposure to defendants’ asbestos-containing friction products caused Mrs. Petitpas’s disease. Plaintiffs asked the jury to award millions of dollars in both economic and non-economic damages.
Attorneys for the defendants, however, presented extensive evidence that Mrs. Petitpas’s mesothelioma could not have been caused by her negligible exposure to asbestos dust from automotive friction products. Ford and Exxon presented expert witnesses in the fields of pathology, epidemiology and industrial hygiene, all of whom agreed that career automotive mechanics, let alone bystanders or companions like Mrs. Petitpas, are not at an increased risk of developing mesothelioma. These experts presented evidence – including 20 epidemiology studies conducted over the last 30 years and funded by various medical and scientific organizations, universities and governments around the world – ultimately showed that work with automotive friction products was not a health hazard.
The jury agreed. After just a day and a half of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both Ford and Exxon.