Ford Motor Co. v. Wood

Decision Date01 September 1997
Docket NumberNo. 280,280
Citation703 A.2d 1315,119 Md.App. 1
PartiesFORD MOTOR COMPANY v. Nollie P. WOOD et al. ,
CourtCourt of Special Appeals of Maryland
Robert Dale Klein, Michael T. Wharton, Annapolis (Debra S. Block and Wharton, Levin, Ehrmantraut, Klein & Nash, P.A., Annapolis, Steven R. Williams and McGuire, Woods, Battle & Boothe, L.L.P., Richmond, VA, on the brief), for appellant

Deborah K. Hines, Washington, DC (Shepard A. Hoffman, Brian C. Parker and Gebhardt & Smith, Baltimore, on the brief), for appellee Hood.

Edward J. Lilly (Gary J. Ignatowski, Steve W. Smith, Scott D. Schellenberger and the Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, on the brief), Baltimore, for appellee Grew.

Argued before SALMON, EYLER and SONNER, JJ.

EYLER, Judge.

This appeal involves two wrongful death and survival actions filed by appellees Nancy L. Grewe, individually, Rosanna Wood, individually and as personal representative of the Estate of Nollie P. Wood, and Marjorie Grewe, as personal representative of the Estate of Keith K. Grewe, that were consolidated for trial in the Circuit Court for Baltimore City. The parties agree that appellees' decedents died of mesothelioma, but disagree that the evidence at trial demonstrated that their diseases and resulting deaths were caused by their exposures to the asbestos-containing brake and clutch products of the appellant, Ford Motor Company ("Ford"). 1 Ford raises a number of challenges to the judgments entered in favor of appellees including challenges to the jury selection process and challenges to certain of the trial court's evidentiary rulings. In addition, Ford maintains that the evidence in

the Wood case was insufficient to support the judgment against Ford. Finally, Ford asserts that the trial court should have applied the noneconomic damages cap to the survival/loss of consortium portions of the judgments. For the reasons set forth below, we shall reverse the judgment in favor of Mrs. Wood and affirm the judgment in favor of the Grewe appellees.

QUESTIONS PRESENTED

Ford inquires on appeal:

1. Whether the trial court committed reversible error by not striking two jurors for cause.

2. Whether the trial court committed reversible error by denying Ford its right to Maryland Rule 2-512(c) information.

3. Whether the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to ask Ford's voir dire questions.

4. Whether the trial court committed reversible error in overruling Ford's Batson challenges.

5. Whether there was sufficient evidence of Mr. Wood's exposure to Ford's brake and clutch parts to submit to the jury the issue of substantial factor causation in the Wood case.

6. Whether the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to permit Ford to introduce evidence of exposure of Grewe and Wood to other asbestos products to prove alternative causation.

7. Whether the trial court committed reversible error in refusing to apply the noneconomic damages cap to the survival/loss of consortium claims.

In addition to those questions presented by Ford, Mrs. Wood's arguments regarding Ford's question 5 raise the novel question of whether Ford can be held liable for failure to warn of the latent dangers of asbestos-containing brake and clutch products that it neither manufactured nor placed into the stream of commerce.

FACTS

Nollie Wood was employed as a garageman at the United States Post Office Preston Street Garage in Baltimore City from 1948 to 1952. Although Mr. Wood did not work on brakes and clutches, there was evidence that Mr. Wood worked "within feet" of mechanics who did work on brakes and clutches at a rate of between three and nine jobs a day. The brake and clutch parts contained asbestos and produced dust when they were replaced. In particular, Ford acknowledged that its brake linings, presumably similar in composition, were 40 to 60 percent chrysotile asbestos by weight. Dust was created during the replacement of brakes in a number of different ways. During normal use of brakes, dust accumulates in the brake drums, and it was a common practice at the Preston Street Garage to use an air hose to blow out the dust from old brakes. The use of the air hose caused asbestos dust to be blown throughout the garage. In addition, during the process of replacing brakes, workers were required to grind the brake shoes so that the brakes properly fit the vehicles. This grinding process also would create dust. Finally, dust was created when the garage was swept at the end of each day.

It is undisputed that a majority of the vehicles that were serviced at the Preston Street Garage were Ford vehicles that were manufactured in the late 1920s and early 1930s. It further is undisputed that the vehicles did not contain their original brake and clutch parts by the time Mr. Wood began working at the Preston Street Garage in 1948. The two coworker witnesses who testified on behalf of Mr. Wood could not identify the manufacturers of the replacement brakes and clutches that were used at the Preston Street Garage between 1948 and 1952, and there was no documentary evidence, such as invoices or purchase orders, identifying the manufacturer of the brake and clutch products to which Mr. Wood was exposed.

Mr. Wood was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January, 1990, and he died on May 26, 1990. Experts testifying on The jury awarded $2,000,000 for Mrs. Wood's wrongful death claim, $840,000 for her loss of consortium claim, and $3,467,727 for the survival action, $3,450,000 of which was for noneconomic damages, for a total verdict of $6,307,727. The trial court denied Ford's post-trial motion to apply to the survival action and loss of consortium claim the statutory cap on noneconomic damages set forth in § 11-108 of the Courts & Judicial Proceedings Article ("CJ").

behalf of Mr. Wood offered the opinion that, to a reasonable degree of medical certainty, Mr. Wood's mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to respirable asbestos fibers emanating from brake and clutch work at the Preston Street Garage between 1948 and 1952. Ford contends that expert testimony excluded by the trial court would have shown that the most likely cause of Wood's mesothelioma was his exposure to amphibole asbestos fibers in ship insulation when he worked as a longshoreman from 1942 until 1947.

Keith Grewe was employed as a mechanic at Foreign Motors in Baltimore City from 1957 through December of 1992, where he regularly worked on brakes and clutches. Mr. Grewe worked with Ford brakes at least weekly. Mr. Grewe testified that when he worked on Ford vehicles, he used Ford replacement brake and clutch parts because they fit better than the parts supplied by other companies. Mr. Grewe was exposed to dust containing asbestos during the repair of brakes when the worn parts were removed and compressed air was used to blow the dust from the drums. Mr. Grewe testified that dust would get all over him and that he could taste the dust and would breathe it. Mr. Grewe also was exposed to dust when installing new brakes since he was required to use a file, hacksaw, and sandpaper in preparing the asbestos facings for installation.

In October 1992, at age 56, Mr. Grewe sought medical attention for symptoms related to fluid which had accumulated around his lungs. Mr. Grewe was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 1993, and he died on October 14, 1993. Mr. Grewe's medical experts testified that, to a reasonable degree The jury awarded $4,000,000 for Mrs. Grewe's wrongful death claim, $1,000,000 for her loss of consortium claim, and $3,069,934 for the survival action, $3,000,000 of which was for noneconomic damages, for a total verdict of $8,069,934. The trial court denied Ford's post-trial motion to apply to the survival action and loss of consortium claim the statutory cap on noneconomic damages set forth in CJ § 11-108.

of medical certainty, Mr. Grewe's occupational exposures to Ford's asbestos-containing brake and clutch products were a substantial factor in causing his mesothelioma and resulting death. Ford contends that the trial court erred in excluding evidence that would have demonstrated that Mr. Grewe was exposed to asbestos while working as a sheet metal worker in the mid-1950s, and while using asbestos-containing joint compound while remodeling homes in the mid to late 1960's.

DISCUSSION
I. Jury Selection

Jury selection in Maryland is regulated by Title 8, Subtitle 2 of the Courts and Judicial Proceedings Article. Hunt v. State, 345 Md. 122, 143, 691 A.2d 1255, cert. denied, --- U.S. ----, 117 S.Ct. 2536, 138 L.Ed.2d 1036 (1997). "Modeled after the Jury Selection and Service Act of 1968, 28 U.S.C. 1861-69 (1994), the selection process set forth in that subtitle necessarily embodies the Sixth Amendment's right to an impartial jury." Id. "A fundamental tenet underlying the practice of trial by jury is that each juror, as far as possible, be 'impartial and unbiased.' " Langley v. State, 281 Md. 337, 340, 378 A.2d 1338 (1977) (citing Waters v. State, 51 Md. 430, 436 (1879)). "The objective of this tenet is to assemble a group of jurors capable of deciding the matter before them based solely upon the facts presented, 'uninfluenced by any extraneous considerations....' " Id.

A. Challenges for Cause

In a civil trial, a "party may challenge an individual juror for cause. A challenge for cause shall be made and determined before the jury is sworn, or thereafter for good cause shown." Md. Rule 2-512(e); see also CJ § 8-210(b)(5). "In determining whether a juror should be excused for cause, the general question is whether a person holds a particular belief or prejudice that would affect his ability or disposition to consider the evidence fairly and impartially and reach a just conclusion." King v. State, 287 Md. 530, 535, 414 A.2d 909 (1980). "[T]he proper focus is on the venire person's state of mind, and whether there is some bias, prejudice, or preconception." Davis v. State, 333 Md. 27, 37, 633 A.2d 867 (19...

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