November 10, 2015, PLLR E-Newsletter
AMMCO’s failure to warn of brake grinder asbestos risk led to mechanic’s mesothelioma
The plaintiff sued AMMCO’s successor-in-interest, alleging that the company knew for decades about the asbestos hazard associated with its grinders but failed to adequately warn of the hazard. The plaintiff also alleged that AMMCO acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others. The jury awarded $25 million. Miller v. BMW of N. Am., LLC.
While working at various automotive service shops during the 1970s, Walter Miller used brake grinders manufactured by AMMCO Tools, Inc. The grinders contained a sandpaper cylinder, which moved at high speeds to grind asbestos-containing brake shoes prior to installation. The process released respirable asbestos dust into the surrounding air.
In 2014, at age 62, Miller was diagnosed with mesothelioma. His prognosis is poor.
Miller sued Hennessy Industries, Inc., the successor-in-interest to AMMCO Tools, alleging that the company knew for decades about the asbestos hazard associated with its grinders but failed to adequately warn of the hazard. The plaintiff also alleged that AMMCO acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
The lawsuit named various other manufacturers and suppliers of engine gaskets and automotive friction products to which Miller was exposed, including brakes and clutches. The other defendants settled pretrial or were otherwise dismissed, and the case went to trial against Hennessy.
Hennessy argued that Miller had misidentified the grinder he used as an AMMCO grinder and that, after OHSA came out with asbestos exposure standards in the 1970s, AMMCO grinders were tested and found to release respirable fibers below OSHA standards. The defense also argued that there were no epidemiological studies supporting the theory that brake grinding subjected mechanics to a higher risk of mesothelioma. Finally, Hennessy argued that it could not be liable because the grinder itself did not contain asbestos but merely grinded other manufacturers’ asbestos products.
The jury found that Miller was exposed to asbestos from his use of AMMCO brake grinders, that AMMCO failed to warn of the danger, and that the defendant’s failure to warn was a substantial contributing factor in causing the plaintiff’s disease. The jury also found that AMMCO had acted with reckless disregard for the safety of others. The jury allocated fault at 86 percent to Hennessy and the remaining 14 percent to other companies. The jury then awarded $25 million, including $10 million for past pain and suffering and $15 million for future pain and suffering. Under New York law, because the jury found that the defendant acted recklessly, Hennessy is responsible for the entire award.
Citation: Miller v. BMW of N. Am., LLC, No. 190087/2014 (N.Y. Sup. Ct. N.Y. Cnty. Sept. 25, 2015).
Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Douglas D. von Oiste and David A. Chandler, both of New York City.
Plaintiff experts: Barry Castleman, public health/asbestos industry history, Garrett Park, Md.; Kenneth Garza, industrial hygiene, San Antonio, Texas; Jacqueline Moline, occupational medicine, New Hyde Park, N.Y.; and William Rom, pulmonology, New York City.
Defense experts: Raymond Harbison, occupational medicine, Tampa; Dennis Bridge, industrial hygiene, Houston; Craig Mountz, corporate representative, Nashville, Tenn.; and Russell Darnell, mechanical engineering, El Dorado Hills, Calif.
Comment: The verdict is reportedly the second against Hennessy for an asbestos-exposure death related to AMMCO brake grinders. A report on the first verdict will appear in the upcoming Dec. 2015/Jan. 2016 issue of the Products Liability Law Reporter.