Asbestos judge rules plaintiff's evidence 'vague and speculative

By Heather Isringhausen Gvillo | Nov 12, 2014

PHILADELPHIA (Legal Newsline) – The asbestos multidistrict litigation judge has granted summary judgment to Nissan North American, Inc., over “vague and speculative” evidence alleging asbestos exposure from its vehicles.

Judge Eduardo Robreno filed the opinion on Sept. 30 in the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, but it wasn’t filed online until Nov. 3.

The case was transferred from the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York in July 2012.

Plaintiff Jo Ann Relyea claimed she was exposed to asbestos while working part-time as an office manager and bookkeeper at an automotive repair shop in New York. As a result of her exposure, she developed mesothelioma and died in November 2012.

Nissan manufactured automobiles, which Relyea alleged were supplied with and used asbestos-containing brakes and clutches.

Nissan moved for summary judgment, arguing there is insufficient evidence to establish causation from its products.

The decedent argued that she provided evidence asbestos exposure from brakes and clutches manufactured and supplied by the defendant.

Additionally, she claimed the defendant is liable under New York law “for contributing to the foreseeable use of asbestos-containing replacement components with its products by manufacturing them with these hazardous original components.”

Relyea provided a deposition prior to her death, testifying that for approximately five years she worked part-time at the automotive repair shop. She explained that she worked in an area with a window into the mechanics’ area and that she would sometimes go into the mechanics’ area.

She testified that she did not recall handling an asbestos-containing product but believes she may have been exposed to asbestos from the products onsite due to lack of ventilation, trapping dust in the facility.

In support of the allegations, the decedent also provided testimony from her former co-worker Alan Weitlich, who said the decedent would periodically come into the mechanics’ area where the repair work was being performed.

Weitlich explained that Nissan vehicles were one of the most common types of vehicles repaired at the shop.

He added that brake and clutch repairs were routinely done at the shop. More specifically, brake jobs were done two or three times per day, and clutch jobs occurred one or two times per month.

Weitlich claimed the brakes used in the 1980s, the time period Relyea worked at the repair shop, typically contained asbestos.

Furthermore, the decedent pointed to various documents allegedly indicating that all brakes and clutches at the time contained asbestos and that information detailing the asbestos hazards was published and available to the defendant.

Robreno concluded there is no evidence that Relyea was ever exposed to respirable asbestos from brakes or clutches on any Nissan vehicle.

 He also held that no reasonable jury could conclude that the decedent was exposed from asbestos-containing components of a Nissan automobile, because “any such findings would be impermissibly conjectural.”

“In short, the nature of plaintiff’s evidence is too vague and speculative to support a finding of causation against defendant. This is particularly true in light of the fact that it is undisputed that numerous types of automobiles other than Nissan were also routinely worked on at the shop,” he wrote.

Therefore, summary judgment was proper.

From Legal Newsline: Reach Heather Isringhausen Gvillo at asbestos@legalnewsline.com

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