SAN FRANCISCO — The following article written by Terri Oppenheimer was posted on Mesotheliomal.net concerning a brake-asbestos-based lawsuit centered on a rail-braking system.

Brake Company’s Argument that Victim “Should Have Known” Fails in Mesothelioma Case

Malignant mesothelioma is known to be caused by exposure to asbestos, but because people afflicted with the disease aren’t sickened until decades after their exposure, it often takes years to correctly identify all of those responsible. In a recent case, a company that was not initially specifically named in a mesothelioma claim tried to have a case against them dismissed, arguing that the family “knew or should have known” to name them and that the claim was not timely. Though a trial court initially agreed, that decision was reversed on appeal.

Man’s Mesothelioma Blamed on Brakes in Rail Vehicles

The case involved Richard Hahn, an employee of the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency who died of malignant mesothelioma in 2016. His family filed a wrongful death lawsuit within weeks of his death, but because they had not yet identified all of the asbestos companies whose products had sickened him, they referred to many of the companies involved as Doe defendants, as permitted by law. 

It took more than a year for Hahn’s family to substitute New York Air Brake’s name in their mesothelioma lawsuit. Though the company had been referenced in an early deposition, the witness who mentioned them did not testify that the company’s brakes contained asbestos. It was not until a year later that Boeing produced documents indicating that Air Brake specified the use of asbestos-containing brake pads in Boeing’s light rails. At that time the family substituted Air Brake’s name in their claim and the company successfully filed a motion for summary judgment to have the case against them dismissed, arguing that because of the deposition testimony, the family “knew or should have known” to name them earlier.

Judge Rejects Asbestos Company’s Argument in Mesothelioma Claim

The mesothelioma victim’s family appealed the decision in favor of the asbestos company, and the Court of Appeals of California agreed and reversed the original decision.  The court determined that the trial court had applied the wrong legal standard, pointing out that if Air Brakes argument were true then “plaintiffs would be incentivized to routinely name any and all persons who might conceivably have some connection with the suit at the onset.”

The court pointed out that because the deposition witness did not testify that Air Brake manufactured or supplied any asbestos-containing parts and that he did not know if any of the brake pads contained asbestos, the company had “failed to meet its burden to establish that the mesothelioma victim’s family was aware” that their products contained asbestos. Therefore, they wrote, the family was correct in not having initially named them. The case against Air Brakes will continue and the Hahn family was awarded their costs.