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Jack v. Dco, LLC

United States District Court, W.D. Washington, Seattle

May 28, 2019

LESLIE JACK, et al., Plaintiffs,
DCO, LLC, et al., Defendants.


          Honorable James L. Robart U.S. District Court Judge


         Before the court are two post-trial motions: (1) Defendant DCo, LLC's (f/k/a Dana Companies, LLC) (“DCo”) motion for judgment as a matter of law (DCo Mot. (Dkt. # 816)); and (2) Defendant Ford Motor Company's (“Ford”) motion for judgment as a matter of law (Ford Mot. (Dkt. # 817)). Plaintiffs Leslie Jack and David Jack (collectively, “Plaintiffs”) oppose both motions. (See Resp. DCo (Dkt. # 822); Resp. Ford (Dkt. # 824).) DCo and Ford (collectively, “Defendants”) filed replies. (DCo Reply (Dkt. # 826); Ford Reply (Dkt. # 828).) The court has considered the motions, the parties' submissions concerning the motions, the relevant portions of the record, and the applicable law. Being fully advised, [1] the court GRANTS DCo's and Ford's motions for judgment as a matter of law for the reasons discussed below.


         The court detailed the factual background of this case in its summary judgment order. (See 9/17/18 Order (Dkt. # 706) at 3-19.) Here, the court recounts only those facts relevant to the present motions, including the procedural history, the evidence presented at trial, and the jury verdict.

         A. Procedural History

         This case arises from decedent Patrick Jack's exposure to asbestos-containing products through his work as an automotive mechanic, a machinist in the Navy, and a machinist and nuclear inspector at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard (“the Shipyard”). (See, e.g., 10/1/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 806) at 168:8-171:20.) After he developed mesothelioma, Mr. Jack sued multiple companies that allegedly supplied, manufactured, or sold asbestos-containing materials and equipment to which he was exposed over the course of several decades. (See 2d Am. Compl. (Dkt. # 253) ¶¶ 3-40.) In October 2017, Mr. Jack died of mesothelioma. (Pl. Trial Br. (Dkt. # 726) at 1.) Mr. Jack's wife, Ms. Jack, and Mr. Jack's son, David Jack, proceeded as Plaintiffs. (See 2d Am. Compl. at 1.)

         From October 1, 2018, to October 12, 2018, Plaintiffs tried their claims against DCo and Ford before a jury.[2] (See Trial Min. Entries (Dkt. ## 753, 757, 763, 764, 770, 774, 781, 784, 789); see also 10/1/18 Trial Tr.; 10/2/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 807); 10/3/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 808); 10/4/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 809); 10/5/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 810); 10/9/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 811); 10/10/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 812); 10/11/18 Trial Tr. (Dkt. # 813).) Plaintiffs asserted three theories of liability against each Defendant: (1) negligence; (2) strict liability for failure to design reasonably safe products (“strict liability design defect claims”); and (3) strict liability for failure to warn of unsafe conditions in their products (“strict liability failure-to-warn claims”). (See Pl. Trial Br. at 6-12.) After Plaintiffs rested their case, DCo and Ford made oral motions for judgment as a matter of law. (See 10/10/18 Trial Min. Entry; 10/10/18 Trial Tr. at 260:12-270:4); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(a). DCo and Ford renewed those motions after the jury rendered its verdict. (See DCo Mot.; Ford Mot.); see also Fed. R. Civ. P. 50(b).

         B. Evidence Presented at Trial

         At trial, Plaintiffs introduced evidence that Mr. Jack used gaskets manufactured or sold by DCo and automotive brakes and clutches sold by Ford. (See, e.g., 10/4/18 Trial Tr. at 101:11-14, 168:10-13, 193:22-194:3, 201:10-25; see also 10/11/18 Trial Tr. at 48:3-65:11.) Mr. Jack worked as a professional mechanic from approximately 1962 to 1967. (10/4/18 Trial Tr. at 192:16-193:8, 200:17-201:5, 202:10-12.) He also performed automotive work on multiple personal vehicles from 1955 until a few years before his death. (Id. at 99:1-5, 100:6-7.) Plaintiffs attempted to establish that the DCo and Ford products Mr. Jack used contained asbestos, and that neither Defendant warned consumers-either at the time of sale or later-about dangers related to their asbestos-containing products. (See, e.g., 10/2/18 Trial Tr. 150:24-151:2, 164:18-165:1; 10/5/18 Trial Tr. at 197:7-13.)

         Dr. Carl Brodkin, Plaintiffs' expert, offered testimony on the causal significance of Mr. Jack's exposure to Defendants' products. In Dr. Brodkin's view, mesothelioma results from “identified exposure[s], ” which require “a well-characterized source of asbestos” and “an activity that disrupts the source.” (10/9/18 Trial Tr. at 31:18-22.) Dr. Brodkin opined that “Mr. Jack's work with [DCo-attributable] gaskets [was] an identified exposure” and “was a cause of his mesothelioma.” (Id. at 59:12-17.) Dr. Brodkin also opined that Mr. Jack's work with asbestos-containing Ford clutches and brakes were identified exposures. (Id. at 61:3-4, 11-16; see also Id. at 67:25-68:4.) In addition, Dr. Brodkin acknowledged that Mr. Jack sustained causally significant asbestos exposure in the Navy, from 1961 to 1962, and at the Shipyard, from 1967 to 1980. (Id. at 33:19-34:3, 96:7-99:21, 105:14-108:9.)

         After the presentation of evidence, the court instructed the jury on the applicable law. (10/11/18 Trial Tr. at 24:17-46:16.) The court explained that, with respect to both negligence and strict liability, Plaintiffs were required to prove that Defendants' conduct or products proximately caused Mr. Jack's mesothelioma. (Final Jury Instr. (Dkt. # 786) No. 19.) Relying on Washington law, the court defined proximate cause as “a cause that was a substantial factor in bringing about the injury, even if the result would have occurred without it.” (Id.); see Mavroudis v. Pittsburgh-Corning Corp., 935 P.2d 684, 688-89 (Wash.Ct.App. 1997). The court also instructed the jury that, with respect to Plaintiffs' negligence claims, “[a] manufacturer of products is under a duty to use ordinary care to test, analyze, and inspect the products it manufactures.” (Final Jury Instr. No. 20.) In addition, over Defendants' objections, the court allowed the jury to consider whether either Defendant was negligent in failing to uphold a duty to issue post-sale warnings about dangers related to its products. (Id. No. 21; see also 10/10/19 Trial Tr. at 223:22-224:25, 234:22-235:21.)

         During closing argument, Plaintiffs' counsel argued, among other theories, that Defendants were negligent because they breached their post-sale duties to warn of dangers associated with their asbestos-containing products. Specifically, counsel argued that Defendants failed to issue post-sale warnings once they became aware of the dangers of asbestos exposure and that their failure to issue such warnings was a substantial factor in bringing about Mr. Jack's asbestos exposure at the Shipyard. (10/11/18 Trial Tr. at 62:5-63:18.) Specifically, counsel asserted:

Even if . . . you believe that it was 100 percent the shipyard . . . the timeline before that happened is so important. . . . [F]or seven years before [Mr. Jack] ever set foot as an employee on Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, he was working with these companies' products day in and day out.
And if they had put a warning on the box, if they had put a skull and crossbones, if they had said, “This can kill you. This can cause cancer. This can give you mesothelioma. This can kill your family, ” during those seven years before he ever went to the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, if they just told him once, maybe he would have put on a mask at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard. Maybe he would have avoided the dust. Maybe he would have protected himself. Maybe he would have gone and worked somewhere else. But he could have minimized his exposure ...

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