Court panel clears Ford of asbestos liability

By Jim Boyle | Aug 29, 2014

The Pennsylvania Superior Court Wednesday upheld a lower court's ruling that said Ford

Motor Co. was not liable for car parts manufactured by its overseas subsidiary, and that the plaintiff failed to pierce the automotive company's corporate veil.

The three-judge panel agreed that although Ford of Britain carried the corporate name, its operations were independent enough that it could be separated from the parent company. The opinion, authored by Senior Judge John L. Musmanno, also applied to another defendant, Borg-Warner (Borg & Beck), which also had a British subsidiary manufacturing car parts.

The judgment affirms the finding issued by Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas Judge Arnold L. New.

The appeal was taken to the Superior Court by Amy Smith, representing her deceased husband, Paul Rowland, who filed his original suit in 2011. According to his complaint, Rowland contracted mesothelioma because of his exposure to asbestos-laden car parts at a young age.

The complaint alleged that while he grew up in Uttoexer, England, between 1967 and 1983, Rowland assisted his father at his auto garage with repairing cars. Rowland claims that the Ford brand of brakes and the Borg & Beck clutches contained asbestos, which he inhaled while working in the garage and when his father came home in his work clothes.

Judge New ruled that the plaintiff did not pierce Ford's corporate veil by showing that Ford of Britain was merely the alter ego of its parent company. The subsidiary "has been a fully operational company with plants and research and development centers throughout the United Kingdom," New wrote. Ford of Britain also has separate books, financial records and bank accounts.

Smith's appeal argued that the lower court misrepresented the relationship between Ford Motor Company and Ford of Britain, sating that the parent company had more control over the operations and used the Ford trademark FOMOCO on all of its subsidiaries' products.

The Superior Court panel disagreed, supporting New's judgment that there is no indication that British customer would have confused parts manufactured by Ford of Britain and Borg & Beck as those made by their American counterparts.

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