On November 19, 2012, an Alameda County jury in Hayward, California returned a $6,825,000 verdict against Ford Motor Company for a career auto mechanic. The jury found Ford Motor Company guilty of defectively designed products, failure to warn of product defect, and negligence. (Patrick Scott and Sharon Scott v. Allied Packing & Supply, Ford Motor Company, et al, Alameda County Superior Court No. RG12613671)
Patrick Scott was an auto mechanic his entire career until he was diagnosed with mesothelioma at age 69. After serving in the U.S. Air Force and working for nine months at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco, he opened his first auto repair shop in 1966 in Sausalito, California. Later that year, he moved his shop to San Francisco. In 1978, Pat Scott opened a one-bay auto shop in St. Helena, California, which he ran until his diagnosis.
Mr. Scott worked on many Ford cars and trucks in his shops throughout his career, as well as his own Ford trucks. The Ford cars and trucks had asbestos brakes, clutches, gaskets, and other parts. Evidence at trial showed that Ford was a member of the National Safety Council in 1948, when the organization published information about the harmful effects of asbestos in brakes. Ford’s corporate toxicologist testified that Ford knew asbestos causes mesothelioma since 1960. Ford continued to sell asbestos parts until 2001. Ford’s corporate representative admitted in testimony that Ford never told its customers that the asbestos in its cars and trucks can cause mesothelioma.
The jury found that Ford’s products were defectively designed, that Ford failed to warn Mr. Scott, and that Ford was negligent, apportioning 22% liability to Ford. The jury awarded Mr. Scott $1,225,000 for his medical costs and lost income and $5,000,000 for his pain, suffering, and emotional distress. The jury also awarded Sharon Scott, his wife, $600,000 for her loss of her husband’s support and companionship.
Ford appealed, arguing that Scott was a “sophisticated user” who should have known the dangers of Ford’s products. Division One of the First Appellate District first rejected Ford’s argument because Ford insisted during the trial that those dangers were not scientifically established when Scott was exposed. The opinion noted that there are different standards for what Scott as owner of a “local automotive business,” was expected to know compared to what Ford, a “large international business directly involved in the manufacture of the products” should have known.
The opinion also reinstates the Scotts’ claim for punitive damages, which the lower court had rejected because the law in Michigan, where Ford is headquartered, does not allow for punitive damages. The appeals court decided California law is what matters so that Ford would not get “a nationwide shield from punitive damage liability,” to sell defective products in California and every other state without fear of punishment.
The Scotts were represented at jury trial by several Kazan Law attorneys led by partners Justin Bosl and Joseph Satterley. Partner Ted Pelletier and the Kazan Law appellate and motions team handled the appellate case.