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Pa. Court Denies Asbestos Case Against Ford, Advance Auto

Maron Marvel attorney, Walter Jenkins, represented Automotive Distribution Network LLC in this landmark case

July 24, 2018

Law360

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Law360 (July 24, 2018, 7:01 PM EDT) -- The Pennsylvania Superior Court on Monday said a Pittsburgh mechanic's widow can't sue Ford Motor Co<https://www.law360.com/companies/ford-motor-co>. over asbestos exposure from aftermarket brake pads and needs more evidence to sue a pair of companies for allegedly distributing the asbestos-containing pads.

The three-judge panel upheld a lower court's dismissal of the case brought by Sharon Gilbert, whose husband, Guy, died of mesothelioma in 2015, on the grounds that she did not offer sufficient proof that her husband had more than minimal exposure to asbestos-containing brake pads manufactured or sold specifically by Advance Auto Parts<https://www.law360.com/companies/advance-auto-parts-inc>, Automotive Distribution Network or Ford.

Since Guy Gilbert died before he could be deposed, his widow relied on testimony from two former co-workers about the work they did at the Alray Tire shop from 1975 to 1985 and where they purchased parts. Sharon Gilbert claimed the auto parts stores were affiliated with Advance and Automotive Distribution Network, but the trial court dismissed the case against them either because the companies denied connection to the stores or the co-workers couldn't testify with certainty that they had bought asbestos-containing brake pads from them.

"I think I bought from Advance, but can I swear to it after 40 years? Could you? I can't," said E. Wayne Felgar, Guy Gilbert's manager, in testimony cited in the opinion.

Although the appeals panel acknowledged that it was undisputed that Gilbert was exposed to dust containing asbestos while working as a mechanic, it could not find that the injuries he suffered were caused by the suppliers his widow wanted to sue.

"This evidence provided no reasoned basis to determine the frequency of appellant's exposure to asbestos-containing parts supplied specifically by Advance," Judge Carolyn H. Nichols said for the unanimous panel. "Thus, even assuming some products from Advance contained asbestos, a finder of fact would have no basis to assess whether the exposure to Advance's products was substantial."

The auto parts companies denied any affiliation with two other stores Felgar thought he had purchased brakes from and the appeals court ruled that Gilbert's widow's efforts to connect them were insufficient.

"Appellant's further attempt to establish that Automotive [Distribution Network] was affiliated with the 'Auto Parts Plus' store by way of a 'cursory internet search' would provide no basis to draw a reasonable inference that Automotive [Distribution Network] supplied parts to Alray [Tire] during decedent's tenure," the 28-page opinion says.

Walter Stuart Jenkins of Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy LLC<https://www.law360.com/firms/maron-marvel>, the attorney representing Automotive Distribution Network, noted that the company hadn't even come into existence at the time the garage would have bought the parts and their "Parts Plus" affiliate was not the same as the one Gilbert cited.

As for Ford's liability, the company claimed it was responsible only for factory-original brake pads containing asbestos, which were phased out of the majority of the company's vehicles by 1984.

Although Gilbert's tenure at the tire shop could have overlapped with the time Ford still sold vehicles with asbestos, the trial court dismissed the case against the company on the basis that Sharon Gilbert presented no evidence of how much Guy had worked with original Ford brakes. The appeals court agreed.

"Even if Alray [Tire] primarily serviced Ford, Chevrolet and Dodge vehicles, the record did not contain adequate information to infer that the frequency of decedent’s contact with the asbestos parts original to Ford vehicles or bearing Ford's replacement parts was more than de minimis," the opinion says.

Furthermore, although Gilbert's co-workers testified that they might have sometimes bought replacement parts from two area Ford dealerships, neither could say for sure that they had purchased brakes there.

The three cases were originally filed in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas for that court's experience with asbestos cases and were consolidated on appeal.

Attorneys for Gilbert, Ford and Advance Auto Parts could not immediately be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Sharon Gilbert is represented by Michael Albanese of Peter G. Angelos PC<https://www.law360.com/firms/law-offices-of-peter-angelos>.

Ford Motor Co. is represented by Robert McCarthy Palumbos, Sharon L. Caffrey and Leah Ariel Mintz of Duane Morris LLP<https://www.law360.com/firms/duane-morris>. Automotive Distribution Network LLC is represented by Walter Stuart Jenkins of Maron Marvel Bradley Anderson & Tardy LLC. Advance Auto Parts is represented by Mark Douglas Eisler of Wilbraham Lawler & Buba PC<https://www.law360.com/firms/wilbraham-lawler>.

The case is Sharon Gilbert, Executive for the Estate of Guy Gilbert v. Advance Auto Parts et al., case numbers 3228 EDA 2017, 3231 EDA 2017 and 3233 EDA 2017, in the Superior Court of Pennsylvania.