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Auto Parts Worker Diagnosed With Mesothelioma

Asbestos and mesothelioma lawsuits are on the rise.  Recently, the California Court of Appeal ruled in Bankhead v. PNEUMO ABEX LLC (California Court of Appeal, 1st Appellate Dist., 4th Div., 2012), held that Pneumo Abex LLC (Abex) was liable to Bankhead – an auto parts worker diagnosed with mesothelioma – for compensatory and punitive damages in the amount of $11 million dollars.

The facts in this case are as follows:

  • Bankhead was exposed to asbestos dust from brake linings, including those manufactured by Abex, during the 30 years he worked at automotive maintenance facilities, primarily as a “parts man,” starting in 1965 and continuing through his retirement in 1999.
  • As a result of this exposure, Bankhead contracted mesothelioma, a form of lung cancer, in 2009.
  • Before his mesothelioma was diagnosed in January 2010, Bankhead experienced difficulty breathing, and underwent painful medical treatment to drain fluid from one of his lungs.
  • After the diagnosis, Bankhead was told he only had 12 months to live, and as his disease progressed, the quality of his life decreased significantly.
  • At trial, Bankhead’s medical experts testified that his condition would become increasingly painful until his inevitable death.

After Bankhead’s mesothelioma was diagnosed, he sued numerous defendants, including Abex and ArvinMeritor. By the time the case went to trial on October 15, 2010, Bankhead had settled with all but four of the defendants.

  1. Abex is the successor in interest to another company, Abex Corporation
  2. Made asbestos-containing friction products, including brake linings for installation on commercial truck brakes.
  3. At least by the 1960’s, Abex knew that workers exposed to asbestos dust were at risk of developing asbestos-related diseases, including mesothelioma.
  4. Nonetheless, Abex did not put warnings on its products until 1972 or later, and even then, only used the word “caution.”
  5. Abex continued to sell asbestos-containing brake products until 1987.
  6. In 1994, Abex sold its entire friction product division to another company, Wagner Electric Corp. (Wagner), a subsidiary of Cooper Industries, Inc. (Cooper Inc.).
  7. As consideration for the sale, Abex received over $207 million in cash, and an indemnity agreement from Wagner for asbestos-related claims against Abex brought after 1998.
  8. Wagner’s parent corporation, Cooper Inc., later became Cooper Industries, LLC (Cooper LLC), which in turn is a subsidiary of another entity, Cooper Industries plc (Cooper plc).
  9. In 1998, Wagner was sold to Federal-Mogul Corporation (FM), which agreed to assume Wagner’s indemnity obligations to Abex.
  10. As part of the sale transaction, Cooper LLC agreed to guarantee the payment of the indemnity obligations owed to Abex by Wagner. Accordingly, after FM filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in 2001, Cooper LLC took responsibility for paying asbestos-related judgments against Abex. (See generally In re Federal-Mogul Global, Inc. (Bk. D. Del. 2010) 438 B.R. 787, 800-801.)

Abex continued to operate other aspects of its business until 2004, but then went out of business entirely, and ceased to generate any income. At the time this case went to trial, Abex still existed as a legal entity, but its principal activity was responding to claims and lawsuits, primarily for asbestos-related injuries. In order to cover its remaining asbestos-related liabilities, Abex relies on its right to indemnity from Wagner, which Cooper LLC, as guarantor, actually pays.

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At the Gooch Law Firm, we pride ourselves on providing our clients reliable representation for even the most challenging cases. If you have been diagnosed with mesothelioma, contact our office at 1.844.329.5955.