Court Grants Summary Judgment to Some Pump Manufacturers, While Denying it to Others in Maritime Action United States District Court, Eastern District of Pennsylvania, May 22, 2018

PENNSYLVANIA — The court issued rulings on summary judgment motions from the five remaining defendants in this lung cancer case, where the plaintiff Robert Hedrick alleged exposure to asbestos while serving in the United States Navy from 1953-1957.  the plaintiff claimed that his lung cancer was caused by alleged work with asbestos products in the boiler rooms and engine rooms of four naval vessels.  Of the five product manufacturer defendants, the plaintiff only identified one by name at deposition.  Instead, he relied on the combination of his testimony, with Navy records and expert testimony from Captain Bruce Woodruff, a former United States Navy Engineering Duty Officer to establish causation.

The court applied maritime law because the exposure at issue met both the locality and connection tests, as the “exposure occurred on a vessel on navigable waters,” and “had a potentially disruptive impact on maritime commerce” because the defendants at issue manufactured asbestos-containing products for use on vessels.  Under maritime law, a plaintiff must show that he or she was exposed to the defendant’s product and that the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury.  “‘(M)inimal exposure’ to a defendant’s product is not sufficient…Rather, a plaintiff must show ‘substantial exposure’ in order to allow a reasonable inference – based on more than conjecture – that the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury.”

Although Captain Woodruff attested to the presence of products manufactured by three of the moving defendants on board the ships on which the plaintiff worked, the court concluded that other evidence was insufficient to demonstrate “substantial exposure” without speculation or conjecture and granted summary judgment.  The court denied the summary judgment motion of defendant Air & Liquid Systems (Buffalo pumps) given that Woodruff identified their products on board relevant Navy ships, and because the plaintiff testified that he believed that he remembered Buffalo pumps from one ship specifically.  Because Woodruff suggested that Crane was the sole supplier of valves to one of the relevant ships, and because the plaintiff testified that valve maintenance was one of his primary duties dominating up to 80 percent of his time, the court denied Crane’s summary judgment motion holding that a factfinder could reasonably conclude that Plaintiff regularly worked on Crane valves with this evidence.


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