May 9, 2017, PLLR E-Newsletter

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Auto parts sellers liable for excavator’s mesothelioma

photo of man repairing yellow excavator

Suit alleged that the defendants sold defective and unreasonably dangerous brakes, clutches, gaskets, and other automotive parts containing asbestos. The plaintiff also alleged that the companies were negligent in failing to warn of the known dangers of asbestos in their products. The jury awarded $81.5 million. Coogan v. Genuine Parts Co.
 

Jerry “Doy” Coogan’s grandfather taught him how to work as an excavator, and Coogan started his own excavation business. For more than 30 years, Coogan operated and repaired backhoes, cranes, and other heavy equipment containing asbestos parts. Many of the parts were sold by Genuine Parts Co. (GPC), which sold parts for farm equipment, industrial equipment, and cars and trucks.

Coogan also restored hot rod and classic cars as a hobby, frequently purchasing asbestos-containing parts from NAPA Auto Parts stores.

In 2015, Coogan was diagnosed with peritoneal mesothelioma. He underwent chemotherapy and weekly drainage of fluid buildup in his stomach. As the tumor invaded his stomach, it became impossible for him to get nutrients, and he began wasting away. The tumor spread to his lungs, and he underwent additional procedures to drain fluid from his lungs. He died in hospice care less than six months after his diagnosis, at age 67. He is survived by his wife, three adult daughters, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren.

Coogan’s wife, on behalf of his estate, sued NAPA and GPC, alleging that the defendants sold defective and unreasonably dangerous brakes, clutches, gaskets, and other automotive parts containing asbestos. The plaintiff also alleged that the companies were negligent in failing to warn of the known dangers of asbestos in their products.

The plaintiff presented evidence that Abex—defendants’ brake lining supplier—had provided warnings with its product, but the defendants removed the warnings before selling the products to the public. The plaintiff also presented evidence that despite actual knowledge of the hazards, the defendants failed to provide any warning until 1988, more than 13 years after they received warnings. Other evidence showed that when American companies would no longer sell them brake linings, they continued to sell the unsafe product by buying it overseas.

The plaintiff did not pursue a claim for past medical expenses.

The jury found for the plaintiffs on both the strict liability and negligence claims and awarded $81.5 million.

Citation: Coogan v. Genuine Parts Co., No. 15-2-09504-3 (Wash. Super. Ct. Pierce Cnty. Apr. 20, 2017).

Plaintiff counsel: AAJ member Jessica M. Dean, Dallas, and Benjamin H. Adams, Los Angeles.

Plaintiff experts: Arnold Brody, molecular biology, Raleigh, N.C.; and Carl A. Brodkin, occupational medicine, Seattle.

Defense experts: David Garabrant, occupational medicine/epidemiology, Ann Arbor, Mich.; Andrew Churg, pathology, Vancouver, B.C., Can.; Coreen Robbins, industrial hygiene, Redmond, Wash.; and David Godwin, radiology, Seattle.