Mesothelioma is a serious form of cancer most commonly caused by exposure to asbestos. Many California workers have been exposed to asbestos at their job sites and are entitled to compensation from employers that failed to adequately warn and protect them from this toxic material. Additionally, workers are often able to hold the manufacturers, distributors and disturbers of asbestos liable for their asbestos-related cancer.
One of the most recent California mesothelioma lawsuits was brought against the manufacturing company Hennessy Industries Inc.
The lawsuit, Shields v. Hennessy Industries Inc., was brought by five workers who used Hennessy’s brake shoe grinding machine in different trades. The five developed mesothelioma and allege that their cancer is linked to the machine’s use.
Brake shoe linings are metal linings that comprise part of a car or truck’s brake pad. Hennessy’s brake shoe grinding machine is used to shape brake linings manufactured by other companies for a variety of industries. Traditionally, these brake linings were among the thousands of products to contain asbestos to make materials more pliable and heat- resistant.
The five mesothelioma patients in the Hennessy case allege that Hennessy’s machine was made at a time when all U.S. brake linings had asbestos and that the grinding action of the machine released dangerous asbestos fibers into the air and made them sick.
Asbestos can cause mesothelioma when the small mineral fibers are released into the air and inhaled by workers. Prolonged asbestos exposure is common across a wide variety of trades and all of the individuals involved in the lawsuit against Hennessy Industries Inc. had used the company’s machines as mechanics, ironworkers or pipefitters.
The five workers allege that the manufacturer essentially had a defective product that exposed them to asbestos inhalation and ingestion and thereby caused their cancer. The workers further allege that the machines contaminated their entire work sites and put everyone in the vicinity of the machines at risk for developing mesothelioma.
Hennessy objected to being held liable for the workers’ asbestos-related cancer because its grinding machine is not made with asbestos. A California appeals court, however, recently allowed the workers’ case to move forward.
Typically, manufacturers aren’t liable for asbestos that comes from the products of others, but the workers were allowed to continue with their claim because they allege that Hennessy’s machine “could only be used in a potentially injury-producing manner.”
The court in this case also acknowledged that many mesothelioma sufferers are having a difficult time finding nonbankrupt companies to hold accountable for their illnesses. The court said that increasingly, peripheral defendants are being brought into court for mesothelioma cases that are only tenuously tied to the defendant’s action.
This case was different, however, because the very act of using the brake lining grinding machine is what caused the release of the dangerous asbestos fibers at the workers’ job sites. Prior to grinding, the asbestos in the brake shoes was bound and, in theory, not harmful. Therefore, Hennessy may be liable for the workers’ mesothelioma-related injuries.
It is important to note that the court did not find that Hennessy was liable for the workers’ illnesses, but rather ruled that the workers stated sufficient facts that, if true, would entitle them to relief.
It is unclear whether Hennessy’s failed summary judgment motion will pressure it to settle the claims with the workers. It is also unclear what type of damages the workers seek. At least one appears to have died from his mesothelioma and the damages associated with a wrongful death claim are typically higher compared with the claims of workers who are still living.