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Ford Fighting Multiple Asbestos Lawsuits

The past few months have proven to be busy for Ford Motor Company, as it faces numerous asbestos lawsuits in varying jurisdictions. Two of these cases recently had decisions handed down—both in favor of Ford, granted for differing reasons.

Illinois

An appellate court in Illinois issued a decision allowing the dismissal of an out-of-state defendant for lack of personal jurisdiction. The plaintiff brought suit in Madison County alleging that her deceased husband was exposed to asbestos-containing products while working for Ford in a Michigan facility.

The trial court denied Ford’s motion to dismiss for lack of personal jurisdiction, and instead held that Ford was subject to general jurisdiction based on its “substantial, not de minimums, business in Illinois.” The trial court also found that exercising general jurisdiction would comply with the notions of fair play and substantial justice, as Ford had consented to the jurisdiction through its actions. Specifically, the court cited Ford’s history of defendant asbestos suits, its status as an authorized and licensed business in Illinois since the early 1920s, and the significant number of dealerships Ford operates in the state, which exceeds 150 locations. In addition, the court also cited Ford’s extensive sales in the state, its ownership of real property, and its employment of Illinois residents.

The appellate court subsequently overturned the lower court’s decision. The Court of Appeals of Illinois, Fifth District found that Ford did not consent to jurisdiction simply by maintaining a registered agent in Illinois, and cited the recently decided Aspen American Insurance Co. v. Interstate Warehousing, Inc. Further, the appellate court held that because Ford’s connection with Illinois did not rise to the level of an “exceptional circumstance” for jurisdiction, beyond state of incorporation or principal place of business, Ford is not at home in the state of Illinois.

Pennsylvania

In a recent decision, the Pennsylvania Superior Court said that the widow of a Pittsburgh-based mechanic cannot sue Ford Motor Co. over asbestos exposure from aftermarket brake pads and that more evidence is needed to sue a pair of companies for allegedly distributing the asbestos- containing pads.

The panel upheld the lower court’s dismissal of the case brought by Sharon Gilbert after the 2015 death of her husband, caused by mesothelioma. The court made its determination on the grounds that Gilbert did not have enough evidence to prove that her husband had more than minimal exposure to asbestos-containing brake pads. Specifically, the court leaned on the testimony of two witnesses who stated that parts were not ordered from Ford dealerships on a regular basis. Additionally, neither could recollect ordering brakes from Ford.   The panel also upheld the summary judgments in favor of the two other named defendants: Advance Auto Parts and Automotive Distribution Network.

Historically, Pennsylvania has leaned favorably towards plaintiffs. For example, in a 2016 opinion handed down by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, it was held that, despite Ford’s contentions, the lower courts had properly applied the application of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” criteria in asbestos product liability litigation. Therefore, the $1 million verdict was upheld.

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