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Mixed Ruling on Brake Manufacturers’ Motions to Preclude Case Reports


Mixed Ruling on Brake Manufacturers’ Motions to Preclude Case Reports

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of North Carolina, May 30, 2015

In this federal court action, it is alleged that the plaintiff, Graham Yates, was exposed to asbestos brake products while working in various employment positions and from working on his own vehicles. The defendants, Ford Motor Company and Honeywell International, Inc. moved in limine on several different grounds to preclude case reports. The court ruled as follows:

The defendants challenged the case reports on the grounds of relevancy and reliability. In a lengthy analysis, the court denied the motion. Regarding relevance, the court looked at notice and causation. For notice, the court held, “the existence of case reports detailing the diagnosis of asbestos-related disease under circumstances similar to plaintiff, in the relevant time period, makes it more probable that defendants had notice regarding the dangers of their products. The evidence is therefore relevant to the issue of notice.” On causation, the court held, “the facts of consequence in this case concern the potential of chrysotile asbestos to cause mesothelioma, whether mesothelioma may be contracted from work with brakes containing asbestos, and whether plaintiff Graham Yates’ own mesothelioma was contracted through his work with brakes containing asbestos. The diagnosis of mesothelioma or other asbestos-related lung diseases in persons who have been exposed to chrysotile asbestos, including in brake products, makes it more probable that plaintiff Graham Yates’ mesothelioma was caused by asbestos.”

Regarding reliability of the case reports, the court assessed their reliability both in general and in light of epidemiological studies. The court found the case studies to be reliable, stating: “The court finds plaintiffs’ evidence is sufficient to carry their burden of showing reliability, where the weight of the record evidence, along with the court’s consideration of public documents, indicates that the technique of using case reports as supplemental evidence of causation has been subjected to peer review and is generally accepted in the scientific and medical communities.”

The defendants also challenged the case reports as being prejudicial and misleading to the jury. The motion was denied without prejudice, since the specific case reports were not submitted to the court for review. As the court held: “At this juncture, where specific case reports have not been submitted for the court’s review, and the precise purpose of each case report (i.e. to show general causation, specific causation, or notice) has not been fully delineated, it is not possible to assess whether the reports contain the requisite similarity to the incidents of plaintiffs’ own situation. The defendants’ instant motions, which seek broad exclusion of all case reports, have not sufficiently alerted plaintiffs of any need to show the requisite level of similarity for any specific case report. Instead, defendants only bring general and conclusory arguments that the probative value of case reports, as a whole, will be substantially outweighed by unfair prejudice, issue confusion and misleading the jury. The court thus denies defendants’ motions, without prejudice to further arguments raised as to specific case reports.”

The defendants’ motion to preclude evidence related to the Australian Mesothelioma Registry (AMR) was granted because the only evidence the plaintiff pointed to “regarding the AMR’s reliability is that the AMR has been referenced in peer-reviewed articles, accompanied by a conclusory assertion that ‘[t]hese materials are reliable and are part of the body of materials on which Plaintiffs’ experts have based their opinions in this case.’”

The defendants’ motion to exclude the “Welch Paper,” which was an amicus brief to the Michigan Supreme Court collecting evidence that asbestos from brakes can cause mesothelioma, was also granted. The court held: “Plaintiffs have not shown that any experts will be able to establish the Welch Paper as a reliable authority. It does not appear that any expert would reasonably rely on facts or data presented in a legal amicus brief in forming an opinion as to causation.”

Read the full decision here.

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