SAN FRANCISCO – A federal judge has dismissed part of a complaint from a man suing several companies alleging asbestos exposure led to his lung cancer.
Judge Jon Tigar of the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California granted Honeywell International’s motion to dismiss the market-share liability portion of plaintiff Gary Farris' complaint against all of the friction defendants, which included Honeywell. The judge did allow 30 days for the plaintiff to amend his complaint.
The ruling states Gary Farris worked on automobile brakes and clutches at a San Jose repair shop as a summer job from 1960 through 1964 and worked on cars for friends and family into the 1980s. He alleged asbestos exposure led to asbestosis and then a February 2016 lung cancer diagnosis. Farris and his wife, Melva Farris, filed strict products liability, market-share liability negligence and fraud claims against three groups of defendants, classified as product, respirator and friction defendants.
The friction defendants are Honeywell, BorgWarner Morse TEC, Maremont Corp., O’Reilly Auto Enterprises and Pneumo Abex. Honeywell moved to dismiss Farris’ market-share liability claim against all the friction defendants because although Farris alleged he was exposed to asbestos through motor vehicle friction products, he could not trace the products to a certain defendant.
In the April 29 opinion, Tigar noted the court already granted a similar motion to dismiss, holding the Farrises failed to plead the products in question were essentially interchangeable. That prompted a second amended complaint, which Honeywell said still falls short.
Tigar said the court “granted Honeywell’s first motion to dismiss because plaintiffs failed to identify what kinds of products they were referring to (e.g., brakes or clutches), what type or types of asbestos fiber were present in those products, or what quantities of asbestos existed within them.”
He said the amended complaint names four companies as makers of asbestos drums and disc brake linings, said all the products those companies made had chrysotile asbestos fiber and contained between 40 and 60 percent asbestos by weight. The complaint also singled out two companies as makers or distributors of asbestos manual clutch facings, and said all the asbestos-laden products could be used on a variety of cars and cannot be identified by manufacturer when old and worn.
Honeywell argued the amended complaint still falls short by failing to allege the named defendants controlled enough of the product market to meet liability thresholds. Honeywell also said Farris needed to plead his exposure occurred during brake pad removal, not installation, because new brake pads could be traced to a specific manufacturer.
The Farrises said they need to conduct discovery on the issue of market share and conceded there may be insufficient facts to establish their position, according to Tigar's ruling, but insisted that at this stage they don’t have to “identify a specific percentage of market share held by each defendant.” Tigar agreed with that position, noting the amended complaint names “a substantial share of the makers of brake linings and clutch facings for passenger cars and light trucks at the relevant time” and that “plaintiffs offer to prove the respective market share of each defendant at trial.”
Tigar also said the amended complaint sufficiently alleges the interchangeability of the various parts. However, he said Honeywell correctly applied the standard set forth in the 1992 California 4th District Appellate Court opinion in Wheeler v. Raybestos-Manhattan as it relates to whether the alleged exposure was part of installation, when the parts were identifiable, or removal, when their origin was understandably unknown and therefore broadly attributable to companies that made the most such products.