Steven D. Smelser Obtains Defense Verdict in Mesothelioma Case

April 12, 2017 01:24 PM
Steven D. Smelser

A Los Angeles jury came back on Wednesday, March 22, 2017 with a unanimous defense verdict - 12-0 - in favor of Ford Motor Company, and a 9-3 defense verdict in favor of another defendant, Henry Company, LLC. As to Ford, Plaintiffs claimed that performing limited automotive repair work during high school could increase a person's risk of developing mesothelioma.

Plaintiffs Roderick B. Currie and Ing-Marie Sundling Currie sued approximately 25 companies alleging that Mr. Currie's exposure to asbestos was the cause of his malignant pleural mesothelioma. At trial, only two defendants remained: Ford Motor Company and Henry Company, LLC.

Ford Motor Company was represented by IADC member Steven Smelser and his colleague Jacquelyn Sugapong of Yukevich Cavanaugh and Dan Larsen of Dorsey & Whitney, LLP. 

During the two week trial, plaintiffs argued that Mr. Currie, 83 years old, was exposed to asbestos dust when he worked part-time 1 to 2 days per week at a Shell gas station in Scarsdale, New York 65 years ago. There, Mr. Currie pumped gas after school during his junior and senior years in high school in 1951-1952. Mr. Currie also alleged exposure to gaskets when he worked one summer at an engine rebuild shop in Washington, D.C. in 1952. He also claimed exposure from brake jobs he performed on personal vehicles. Plaintiffs also claimed that Mr. Currie was exposed to Henry brand roofing cement when he repaired roofs on his personal residences as well as on several rental properties during the early 1980s through the 2000s. 

Plaintiffs asked the jury to award $7-14 million in both economic and non-economic damages to Mr. Currie and $3.5 million to Mrs. Currie for her loss of consortium claim.

Attorneys for the defendants, however, exposed the speculative bases for Mr. Currie's memories of work with and around Ford friction parts over six decades ago. Moreover, evidence was offered that emphasized Mr. Currie's mesothelioma diagnosis was questionable, at best. Mr. Currie's most recent PET scans indicated no evidence of malignancy. Notably, both sides' experts testified that, even after chemotherapy, a mesothelioma tumor never diminishes completely which called the jury's attention that Mr. Currie's alleged mesothelioma was not only extraordinarily unusual, but highly suspect. Ford's other expert witnesses in industrial hygiene and epidemiology offered testimony that even if Mr. Currie did have mesothelioma, it could not have been caused by his negligible exposure to asbestos from automotive friction products. These experts presented evidence - including 20 epidemiology studies conducted over the last 30 years and funded by various medical and scientific organizations, universities, and governments around the world - that ultimately showed that work with automotive friction products does not increase one's risk of developing mesothelioma.

The jury agreed. After a day of deliberations, the jury returned a verdict in favor of both Ford Motor Company and Henry Company, LLC. 

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