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From Products Liability Law Daily, February 11, 2015

Deceased mechanic’s exposure to Honeywell, Carlisle, Caterpillar asbestos products unproven

By John W. Scanlan, J.D.

Honeywell International, Carlisle Industrial Brake & Friction, and Caterpillar, Inc. were not liable on asbestos-related product liability claims brought by the widow of a deceased heavy equipment mechanic because she had not proven that the worker had been exposed to their asbestos-containing products, the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Alabama decided. The court also granted the plaintiff’s request to dismiss without prejudice her claims against Federal-Mogul, which was currently in bankruptcy (Franklin v. Caterpillar, Inc., February 10, 2015, Bowdre, K.).

Background. Ray Franklin worked as a heavy equipment mechanic at Hub Trucking from 1980 to 1984, at Gold Kist from 1984 to 1994, and at Thompson Tractor from 1994 to 2009. He was diagnosed with asbestosis in April 2011, and in May filed a product liability suit against a number of defendants not involved in the present case; that case was removed to federal court and transferred to the asbestos MDL where it is currently pending. Ray Franklin died in October 2011 without giving any testimony. Donna Franklin, his widow, filed the present suit against Honeywell International, Inc., Carlisle Industrial Brake & Friction, and Caterpillar Inc., alleging product liability and negligence claims, among others. A number of co-workers at his three workplaces were deposed. Honeywell, Carlisle, and Caterpillar each moved for summary judgment, arguing that there was no evidence that Ray Franklin had been exposed to their products.

Product identification. The motions for summary judgment filed by Carlisle, Honeywell, and Caterpillar were granted because the worker’s widow failed to establish that any of their asbestos-containing products existed at any of the worker’s workplaces or that he ever worked in the vicinity of their products.

Carlisle. Only one of his co-workers mentioned “Carlisle” in his testimony, but his testimony that he had worked with Carlisle brake pads while at Hub Trucking from 1989 to 1991 and from 1993 to 1994 was irrelevant because the deceased worker did not work there at the same time as he did. That co-worker could not determine whether refurbished brakes on trucks that came to Thompson Tractor to get brake jobs while he worked there contained a Carlisle brake pad unless he originally installed the brake shoe himself, and the court noted that no Carlisle brake pad contained asbestos after 1986, long before the co-worker installed his first brake pad at Thompson. Therefore, the threshold showing of product identification was not met.

Honeywell. A co-worker of the deceased worker stated that Bendix was a main manufacturer of air compressors, but this was irrelevant because he did not state whether Thompson Tractor used Honeywell/Bendix air compressors or whether the deceased worker had ever worked on or near one. A second co-worker who remembered handling Honeywell/Bendix air compressors at Thompson also did not know if the deceased worker had ever worked on or near one. The threshold holding of product identification was not met for Honeywell either.

Caterpillar. The widow asserted that the deceased worker must have been exposed to Caterpillar products that contained asbestos because he worked for 15 years at Thompson Tractor, which was a Caterpillar dealership; he spent 80 percent of his time repairing engines, primarily Caterpillar engines; removed old Caterpillar engine gaskets 90 percent of the time when he repaired Caterpillar engines and used Caterpillar parts to repair Caterpillar engines. However, all Caterpillar products were asbestos-free by 1990, four and a half years before he began working there; therefore, all new Caterpillar products he installed there did not contain asbestos. Older gaskets he removed while working there might have contained asbestos, but the great majority of engine gaskets were removed when they were three to five years old and, thus, most of the older gaskets he removed would also have been free of asbestos. Further, not all of the gaskets manufactured by Caterpillar prior to 1990 contained asbestos. As a result, the court found that the “chain of inferences” required to connect the worker to an asbestos-containing Caterpillar product was too great to create substantial proof.

The case is No. 1:13-cv-0888-KOB.

Attorneys: Steve R. Morris (Morris Law Office) for Donna Franklin. Deirdre C. McGlinchey (McGlinchey Stafford) for Caterpillar Inc. Jenelle R. Evans (Balch & Bingham LLP) for Carlisle Companies Inc. Frank E. Lankford, Jr. (Huie Fernambucq & Stewart LLP) for Honeywell International.

Companies: Caterpillar Inc.; Carlisle Companies Inc.; Honeywell International

MainStory: TopStory DefensesLiabilityNews AsbestosNews AlabamaNews

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