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Black v. Abex Corp

    Brief Fact Summary.

    After Plaintiff’s husband died from exposure to asbestos-containing products while he work as auto mechanic in the Air Force for 15 years, Plaintiff filed a wrongful death lawsuit against Abex Corporation as well as 47 others under the market share liability theory as well as other liability theories.

    Synopsis of Rule of Law.

    Under the market share theory of liability in a wrongful death lawsuit, multiple defendants will only be found liable for causing a person’s death when the particular products at issue are identical, fungible, or carry equivalent degrees of risk.

    Facts.

    Rochelle Black (Plaintiff) filed suit against Abex Corporation as well as 47 others (Defendants) for wrongful death after her husband, Markus, was exposed to asbestos-containing products. Plaintiff claimed that Markus’s exposure to the asbestos-containing products, during the 15 years he worked as an auto mechanic in the Air Force, caused his death from lung cancer. Plaintiff claimed that Defendants should be held liable under market share liability as well as other liability theories. After the trial court dismissed Plaintiff’s complaint for failing to assert a genuine issue of material fact, Plaintiff appealed.

    Issue.

    Under the market share theory of liability in a wrongful death lawsuit, will multiple defendant be found liable for causing a person’s death when the particular products at issue are not identical, fungible, or carry equivalent degrees of risk?

    Held.

    No. Under the market share theory of liability in a wrongful death lawsuit, multiple defendants will not be found liable for causing a person’s death when the particular products at issue are not identical, fungible, or carry equivalent degrees of risk. In this case, prolonged exposure to asbestos-containing products does not warrant relief against multiple defendants under the market share liability theory because such products are not identical, fungible, and do not carry equivalent degrees of risk. Plaintiff argued that Wheeler v. Raybestos-Manhanttan, 11 Cal. Rptr.2d 109 (Cal. Ct. App. 1992) was applicable to the fact in this case and warranted relief under the market share liability theory because Plaintiff was seeking to hold responsible the manufacturers of a certain type of asbestos-containing product, those who manufactured “friction products.” However, Wheeler was not helpful to Plaintiff’s case because the asbestos-containing brake pads at issue in Wheeler were manufactured with comparable quantities of a single asbestos fiber, which carried equivalent degrees of risk. Because Plaintiff failed to demonstrate that Defendants’ products carried equivalent degrees of risk, the trial court’s judgment is affirmed.

    Discussion.

    Because there are a wide variety of asbestos-containing products, each with different amounts and types of asbestos, it would not be fair to hold multiple defendants liable based on their share of the market. It would only be fair if the products were identical, fungible, or carry equivalent degrees of risk. For example, in Sindell v. Abbott Laboratories, 607 P.2d 924 (Cal. 1980), a woman who suffered injuries resulting from her mother’s ingestion of a certain drug while pregnant sued a bunch of drug manufacturers. In Sindell, the Court held that all the drug manufacturers would be liable despite the fact that the specific drug manufacturer of the particular drug ingested by the mother was unidentifiable. The Court’s reasoning was because the drugs ingested were fungible, identical in composition, and mutually interchangeable. As such, each drug manufacturer could be held responsible due to their share of the drug market.


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