Monday, 2 March 2015

Ford Can't Duck Worker's Overseas Asbestos Exposure Suit

By Sindhu Sundar

Law360, New York (March 02, 2015, 5:11 PM ET) -- A New York appellate court has ruled that Ford Motor Co. must face a former mechanic’s suit claiming his exposure to asbestos in Ireland lead to his mesothelioma, with the panel citing Ford's "substantial role" in the design of auto parts distributed by its U.K. subsidiary.
The appellate panel dismissed Ford's U.K. subsidiary Ford Motor Co. Ltd. from the case for lack of jurisdiction, but said in a ruling Thursday that there were "issues of fact" about whether Ford USA can be held liable in the case brought by plaintiff Raymond Finerty, a U.S. resident who claimed his work in Ireland from the 1960s to the 1980s with automotive parts, including car brakes, caused his illness.

The ruling affirms a lower court's decision in October denying Ford USA's summary judgment motion, and reverses that court's decision denying its U.K. subsidiary's motion to dismiss the suit, according to the order.

"The record demonstrates that Ford USA acted as the global guardian of the Ford brand, having a substantial role in the design, development, and use of the auto parts distributed by Ford UK, with the apparent goal of the complete standardization of all products worldwide that carried the signature Ford logo," the panel said in its ruling.

"Thus, issues of fact exist whether Ford USA may be held directly liable as a result of its role in facilitating the distribution of the asbestos-containing auto parts on the ground that it was 'in the best position to exert pressure for the improved safety of products' or to warn the end users of these auto parts of the hazards they presented," the court said.

Finerty, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in December 2009, had brought his suit in the following year against a number of defendants including Abex Corp., a producer of hydraulic systems. He has resolved his claims against all defendants except for Ford, his attorneys at Levy Konigsberg LLP told Law360 Monday.

"We're very pleased with the court's decision, and it could have wide-ranging effects because the court found that Ford can be responsible for exposing people to its products around the world," Amber R. Long of Levy Konigsberg said.

"For decades, they have exported poisonous products, and since that time they've been able to avoid liability by hiding behind a scheme of complicated corporate hierarchy that amounts to a shell game," Brendan Tully of Levy Konigsberg said. "This is the first time we've been able to show Ford's direct role in its European products."

The attorneys said that they hope the suit will go to trial within the next few months.

According to the order, Ford USA had argued that it could not be held liable for parts made and sold by its U.K. subsidiary, saying that there was "no basis" to pierce the corporate veil, in which a company's owners can be held responsible for their units' liabilities.

The panel agreed with this aspect of Ford USA's argument, but ruled the suit should nonetheless proceed against it because of its potential role the products' design, according to the order.

Representatives and an attorney for Ford USA could not immediately be reached for comment late Monday.

The plaintiffs are represented by Amber R. Long and Brendan Tully of Levy Konigsberg LLP.

Ford is represented by Elliot J. Zucker of Aaronson Rappaport Feinstein & Deutsch LLP.

The case is Raymond Finerty et al. v. Abex Corp. et al., case number 190187/10 14344 14343, in the Supreme Court of New York Appellate Division, First Department.

--Editing by Emily Kokoll.

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