Product Liability and Asbestos Research

Product Liability and Asbestos Research

How do you prove a historical negative—and do so within an extremely tight legal deadline?

Client Challenge

Like many companies with a long manufacturing history, TKD, Inc. found itself facing a potentially costly, but poorly documented, asbestos exposure claim in California state court.


The plaintiff in this case alleged that he had been exposed to asbestos while repairing pumps manufactured by Johnston Pump Company (the former name of TKD) on specific U.S. Navy vessels.  Outside counsel for TKD suspected that the plaintiff was confusing Johnston Pump Company with another pump manufacturer—Johnson Motors Corporation—a different entity with no historical connection to TKD.  To prove that there was no connection between the pumps on the Navy vessels and Johnston Pump Company, counsel needed unassailable historical evidence, and they needed that evidence for a trial scheduled to begin in less than a month.

Finding the Facts

The challenge of proving a negative (i.e., that pumps from Johnston Pump Company were not on the Navy vessels) required expert contextual knowledge of where the evidence should be, a systematic and thorough search of those sources, and a well-documented presentation of findings.  HAI | Legal’s prior experience investigating the usage of asbestos-containing components within the shipbuilding industry, its track record of preparing highly-complex corporate succession and corporate genealogies, its in-house ability to present evidence as an expert witness or 30(b)(6) representative, and its well-earned reputation of being able to complete projects with tight deadlines, made it the perfect research firm for the engagement.

HAI | Legal immediately commenced documentary research at the National Archives at College Park, Maryland, reviewing thousands of pages of U.S. Navy records and locating several references to “Johnson Motors” pumps on the relevant vessels, and just as importantly, no references to “Johnston” pumps.  Less than three weeks after beginning the engagement, a HAI | Legal historian was deposed regarding the team’s research findings and methodology. The HAI | Legal historian also submitted a sworn affidavit supporting his expert historical opinion that Johnston Pump Company did not manufacture pumps for use on the specific U.S. Navy vessels in question, but that Johnson Motors Corporation did.


During the ensuing trial, HAI | Legal’s affidavit served as the centerpiece of TKD’s motion to dismiss.  After reviewing the affidavit, the judge asked the plaintiff’s counsel if they could rebut the research findings. They ultimately could not, and the case was quickly settled, saving TKD many thousands of dollars.