Court Grants Summary Judgment for Defendant Boiler Manufacturer Based on Lack of Causation Under Maritime Law U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, September 16, 2016

Plaintiffs Jimmy R. Mitchell and Connie Mitchell filed suit alleging that Mr. Mitchell developed lung cancer as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing products, in part during the course of his employment as a boiler fireman with the U.S. Navy from 1976-79.

Defendant Foster Wheeler filed for summary judgment and argued, among other things, lack of causation. To establish causation under maritime law (which both parties agree applied), plaintiffs must show that (1) Mr. Mitchell was exposed to a Foster Wheeler boiler; (2) the exposure was a substantial factor in causing Mr. Mitchell’s injury; and (3) Foster Wheeler manufactured or distributed the asbestos-containing product to which Mr. Mitchell alleges exposure.

In this case, Mr. Mitchell testified that the he performed maintenance on two Foster Wheeler boilers and the door gaskets attached to the same. He recalled the size of the boilers as approximately six to eight feet long from front to back, 100 feet from side to side, and two and a half stories tall. Despite recalling these specific details, Mr. Mitchell did not did not know if the external insulation he maintained was original to the Foster Wheeler boilers. He testified that the boilers would have been repaired and maintained prior to his arrival onboard the naval ship at issue. The door gaskets he maintained were not original either, as they were replaced every time the boiler door was opened. Mr. Mitchell’s belief for his asbestos exposure came from when he replaced the insulation on the sludge drum opening every time the ship was in port. He thought that the insulation inside the doors was original to the Foster Wheeler boilers but the plaintiffs failed to cite to any evidence to support such an assertion.

The court ultimately concluded that the plaintiffs had done nothing more than show the presence of Foster Wheeler’s boilers upon the naval ship. Further, the court noted that the plaintiffs’ evidence was speculative as to whether the products to which Mr. Mitchell alleges exposure actually contained asbestos supplied or manufactured by Foster Wheeler. The court further noted the fact that the boiler components were so frequently maintained runs counter to the plaintiffs’ assertion that they were original to the Foster Wheeler boilers. As such, summary judgment as to Foster Wheeler was granted based on lack of causation.

Read the full decision here.


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