Iowa Appeals Court Reverses Mesothelioma Ruling, Forcing Brake Manufacturers Back to Court

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Published on September 06, 2022

A mesothelioma lawsuit that was dismissed by an Iowa district court has been reinstated by the state’s court of appeals. The decision will allow the victim and his wife to pursue justice against numerous asbestos companies, but more importantly confirms the importance of a recent Iowa Supreme Court decision that extends liability to those that “made or sold” products resulting in exposure to asbestos.

Department of Transportation Employee Blames Malignant Mesothelioma on Exposure to Asbestos in Brakes

The plaintiffs in the case are mesothelioma victim Paul Fankhauser and his wife Mary. Paul worked in a several positions for the Iowa Department of Transportation during an almost-forty year career, and says he was exposed to asbestos from a variety of work-related tasks, including conducting brake repairs. Among the defendants named in his suit are brake manufacturers Honeywell International and Abex Corporation.

In response to the mesothelioma claim, both companies argued that the case should be dismissed because Iowa law “limits liability to those who make or sell component parts that are the source of the asbestos exposure.” This argument would limit responsibility to those who first process raw asbestos for use in products, rather than manufacturers that use it as part of their equipment and then sell it to a client such as Fankhauser’s employer. The district court agreed and granted the company’s summary judgment, effectively halting the case.

Appeals Court Says District Court Misinterpreted Iowa Law in Mesothelioma Decision

The Fankhausers appealed the district court’s decision to the Iowa Court of Appeals, which, in an important and far-reaching decision, reviewed the dismissal and overturned it. The appeals court wrote that the lower court had “misinterpreted” Iowa’s law by limiting liability to defendants that mine, process or refine asbestos. In explaining its decision, the appeals court specifically referred to the recent Iowa Supreme Court decision that addressed a similar issue, and in which the high court said that the district court had “missed the broader context of the statute.”

The court confirmed the Iowa Supreme Court’s decision on an earlier mesothelioma case, which had indicated that the state’s laws intended to “capture those in the line of distribution for the offending product or component part.” They wrote that because Honeywell and Abex had sold asbestos-containing products that resulted in Mr. Fankhauser’s exposure, they were not protected from liability and that summary judgment had been improper. The case will move on to a jury.

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, it is essential that you are working with someone who understands the ins and outs of your rights and available resources. Contact the Patient Advocates at at 1-800-692-8608 to learn more about the help we can provide.

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Written by Terri Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer

Terri Heimann Oppenheimer is the head writer of our news blog. She graduated from the College of William and Mary with a degree in English. Terri believes that knowledge is power and she is committed to sharing news about the impact of mesothelioma, the latest research and medical breakthroughs, and victims’ stories.

Learn more about and contact Terri