In a unanimous 64 page decision, the Second District Court of Appeal, Division Four in Los Angeles affirmed the defense verdict in favor of Exxon Mobil Corporation and Ford Motor Company in a lawsuit brought by Marline and Joseph Petitpas. This decision addressed a number of significant issues impacting product and premises liability cases. Plaintiffs alleged that Mrs. Petitpas' mesothelioma arose in part by her bystander exposure to asbestos-containing brakes, gaskets and clutches when she visited Joseph Petitpas at an Enco service station in Pomona, California, and from asbestos taken home on the clothes of Joseph when they began dating, but were not yet married or living together. As to Exxon, the Court of Appeal examined three separate and independent issues.
First, the Court affirmed the trial court's grant of summary adjudication as to Plaintiffs' strict liability causes of action against Exxon, a premises defendant. Second, the Court affirmed the order granting summary adjudication of Plaintiffs' take-home liability claims because Marline was not a member of Joseph's household when he allegedly was exposed to asbestos at the service station. Third, the Court affirmed the Jury's unanimous verdict that in the late 1960's Exxon neither knew, nor through the exercise of reasonable care should have known, that work with automotive products created an unreasonable risk of harm in the late 1960's.
As to strict products liability, the Court held that Exxon was a provider of automobile repair services, not a supplier of products. In reaching the conclusion that strict liability was not appropriate, the Court distinguished its own opinion in Hernandezcueva v. E.F. Brady Company, Inc. (2015) 243 Cal.App.4th 249. The Court found that unlike E.F. Brady, where the defendant was a drywall installer whose contracts always involved the provision of drywall material, Exxon's sporadic work with asbestos-containing brakes, gaskets and clutches in the service of automobiles did not support a finding that it was in the supply chain of those products.
On the take-home claim, the Court rejected Plaintiffs' request to extend the Supreme Court ruling in Kesner v. Superior Court (2016) 1 Cal.5th 1132, which limited take home exposure claims to "members of a worker's household, i.e. persons who live with the worker and are thus foreseeably in close and sustained contact with the worker over a significant period of time." Although Marline and Joseph would ultimately marry, at the time they were still dating and did not reside in the same household, thus summary adjudication of this claim was proper.
In affirming the unanimous jury verdict, the Court detailed the evidence at trial demonstrating that the risks associated with automotive repair products are different than risks associated with other products, including insulation. Specifically, Dr. Castleman testified that by 1969, "there was nothing in print on the measurement of exposure of brake mechanics to asbestos" and that even today there are no studies "that have any statistical power … that speak of the mesothelioma risk of mechanics that do brake repair work."
As to Ford, the Court also approved the recent decision by the First Appellate District in Johnson v. ArvinMeritor (2017) 9 Cal.App.5th 235 (also a Dentons decision) and followed the California Supreme Court decision in O'Neil v. Crane Co. (2010) 53 Cal.4th 335, 347, in holding that automotive friction parts are not designed to require asbestos-containing components and therefore held that the Ford designed brake drums or disks would not give rise to design defect liability.
Finally, the Court approved instructing the jury on CACI 430 in cases involving defendants that are not manufacturers or suppliers of asbestos-containing products. It also affirmed an order granting non-suit in favor of Rossmoor based on a lack of evidence of exposure to asbestos.