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Court Blasts Attempt by Brake Maker to Weasel Out of $2M Asbestos Verdict

. By
The National Trial LawyersA California appeals court rejected a dubious effort by Pneumo Abex LLC, a maker of auto brake parts containing asbestos, to weasel out of a $2 million verdict against it that was supported by expert testimony.

“The testimony amply supported the apportionment of 13 percent of fault to Abex,” said the Third Appellate District of the California Court of Appeal on July 25 in Michael Lovelace v. Pneumo Abex LLC, case number C072371, an unpublished opinion.

The plaintiff, James A. Lovelace, died after the jury award of $2,072,164, and his son defendant the result as his father’s successor in interest. The company, based in Camden, NJ, sought a new trial, arguing that there was insufficient evidence against it.

Chrysotile causes mesothelioma

Allan Smith, a professor of epidemiology, testified that the overwhelming number of cases of pleural mesothelioma in adult men are caused by exposure to asbestos dust. In Smith’s opinion there was no doubt chrysotile - the form of asbestos contained in Abex’s brake products - causes mesothelioma. Based on the quantity and types of asbestos to which James was exposed as a plumber and truck mechanic, James would have suffered an increase in his risk of mesothelioma from all sources of asbestos.

Although secondary exposure to his father’s asbestos from the Johns-Manville plant would have contributed to James’s risk, such secondary exposure would not have somehow excluded all other of the asbestos exposures as a cause of his mesothelioma.

On the basis of studies, including a recent study of exposures to chrysotile miners in Italy, Smith rejected the hypothesis chrysotile did not cause mesothelioma. As to the Italian study, Smith explained: “That’s just one example that certainly chrysotile asbestos dust does cause mesothelioma.” Any assertion chrysotile dust exposure does not contribute to mesothelioma “just flies in the face of scientific evidence,” he testified.

Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma

Smith’s testimony was echoed by Dr. Barry Horn, an expert on asbestos-related illnesses, who also explained there was no doubt James had mesothelioma and exposure to asbestos was the only known cause of mesothelioma in the United States.

Dr. Horn considered James’s exposures to Johns-Manville asbestos fibers and Abex asbestos fibers. He concluded that “all of that exposure contributes to the risk for the development of mesothelioma.” Given James’s exposure to Abex brake dust blown into the air with a compressor and due to sanding the brake shoes, Dr. Horn concluded the brakes James worked on substantially contributed to the mesothelioma.

James himself testified he worked on brakes for 30 years and could not estimate how many vehicles he worked on because it was “a lot.” James recalled seeing Abex labels on parts and boxes during those years.

Blasting the company, the court said, “We note Abex has presented a one-sided version of the statement of facts that favors its evidence and barely acknowledges James’s evidence.” It affirmed the trial court and awarded Lovelace his costs on appeal.

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