As of November of 2006, the Ford Motor Company was the target of numerous current and pending legal actions related to a range of issues from compliance with government emissions and fuel economy standards to financial reporting requirements. These include product liability matters, some of which are class action suits, involving the use of asbestos in a number of products.
Products and Plaintiffs
According to Ford Motor Company documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the majority of asbestos litigation in which the corporation is a named defendant has been filed by automotive service personnel or others who have worked on brakes of Ford vehicles. Other personal injury suits have been filed by victims who were exposed to asbestos (which can lead to conditions such as asbestosis, a scaring of the lungs, or mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos cancer) in Ford manufacturing facilities or aboard ships of the company’s former maritime fleet.
While Ford admits that asbestos was used in numerous automotive components such as brakes, clutches and firewalls since the introduction of the Model T, the company continues to state that “…the scientific evidence confirms our long-standing position that mechanics and others are not at an increased risk of asbestos-related disease as a result of exposure to the type of asbestos formerly used in the brakes on our vehicles”. Strangely, less than five years earlier, a New York Times article stated that Ford, General Motors and the Chrysler Corporation were “expected to argue that lawsuits should be dismissed for lack of scientific evidence”.
Corporations have a long record of either manipulating scientific data or suppressing it altogether. The most egregious example – which essentially opened the way for the enormous wave of litigation that came afterward – was discovery of the “Sumner Simpson Papers” in 1977.
In the early 1930s, a corporation known as Raysbestos-Manhattan commissioned the Metropolitan Life Insurance Company to do a survey of its factories and make safety recommendations. In 1977, Raybestos-Manhattan CEO William Simpson testified that his father had hired a laboratory to study the harmful effects ofasbestos exposure during the 1940s. During the deposition, it was revealed that records of this study had been stored in an office closet for over thirty years.
What these records revealed was a four-decade conspiracy between Raysbestos and Johns-Manville, Inc. to keep the findings of the lab study a secret. In a later case, Anna Miller et. al. v. Johns-Manville, a federal judge in New Jersey discovered that results of the Metropolitan Life survey – which had been conducted by a medical doctor – had been altered by the company.
Protecting Their Interests
In light of the Raysbestos/Johns-Manville cover-up, it is interesting that organizations such as the National Coalition for Litigation Justice should stand up in favor of defendants such as the Ford Motor Company, as they did in filing an amicus curiae brief in the Michigan case of Miller v. Ford Motor Company in April of 2007. This particular suit alleged that a family member had suffered secondary exposure to asbestos that had been brought home by a member of the household on his clothing after relining the interior of Ford company blast furnaces. The argument was that “landowners owe no duty to remote plaintiffs injured off-site through secondhand asbestos exposures” and that liability law on asbestos manufacturers and vendors regarding such secondhand exposure could not be applied in the present case.
Preparing a Case
A mesothelioma lawyer that specializes in, and has experience in, asbestos litigation will need thorough documentation of the time period and location of exposure as well as information on the specific asbestos products involved. In addition, it is important to have an irrefutable mesothelioma diagnosis, since a common defense strategy consists of an attempt to prove that the plaintiff is in fact not suffering from the illness alleged in the complaint.