On September 21, 2015, after an eight-week trial which was set on an expedited schedule, a California jury handed down a verdict in favor of the defendants, including Schnader clients Nissan North America, Inc. and Nissan Motor Co., Ltd., in a suit stemming from allegations that asbestos in automotive products caused the plaintiff, a 70-year-old career automobile mechanic, to develop malignant mesothelioma. Alice Sacks Johnston, of the firm’s Pittsburgh office, along with Sheila Doyle Kelley, Craig L. Hodgson and Lilian M. Loh, of the San Francisco office, represented the Nissan defendants in the Alameda County Superior Court trial. The Nissan defendants were also represented at trial by Michael A. Brown of Miles & Stockbridge P.C. in Baltimore, Maryland. During closing arguments, plaintiffs’ counsel asked the jury to award $30 million to plaintiffs and to award punitive damages against the Nissan defendants.
In their complaint, plaintiffs Steve and Virginia Swasey alleged that Mr. Swasey was exposed to asbestos in automotive brakes, gaskets and clutches and through the use of brake grinding machines between 1958 and his retirement in 1999. The alleged result was Mr. Swasey’s diagnosis with a fatal form of pleural mesothelioma in January 2015. Defendants countered with evidence from their team of medical causation experts that exposure to asbestos in automotive component parts does not create an increased risk of disease. In addition, they demonstrated that Mr. Swasey’s service aboard ship in the U.S. Navy and exposure to asbestos in thermal insulation during that two-year service was the actual cause of his disease.
While the jury found that Mr. Swasey had been exposed to asbestos from the use of defendants’ products, they found that none of the defendants acted negligently and that the products did not fail to perform as safely as an ordinary consumer would expect. Additionally, the jury found that the defendants had proven that the benefits of the design of the products at issue outweighed their alleged risks.