Plaintiff Fails to Demonstrate Decedent Worked with Boiler Manufacture’s Product; Summary Judgment Granted Superior Court of Delaware, July 11, 2017

Dorothy Charbonneau filed suit in the Superior Court of Delaware against multiple defendants alleging the defendants’ use of asbestos caused her husband, Robert Charbonneau, to contract an asbestos related disease.  Mr. Charbonneau testified that he believed he was exposed to asbestos while maintaining and cleaning multiple boilers manufactured by Cleaver-Brooks throughout his employment career.  Mr. Charbonneau also testified that he removed a sectional boiler during employment with Smith Mechanical. He testified that the boiler may have been Cleaver-Brooks but stated that he believed this because “they had a lot of Cleaver-Brooks in the area.”

Cleaver-Brooks contended that the plaintiff’s claims fail under Massachusetts law because a manufacturer does not owe a duty to warn for asbestos dangers from other manufacturers’ parts.  Applying Massachusetts law, to prove causation in an asbestos case, the plaintiff must establish (1) that the defendant’s product contained asbestos (product identification), (2) that the victim was exposed to the asbestos in the defendant’s product (exposure), and (3) that such exposure was a substantial contributing factor in causing harm to the victim (substantial factor).

Massachusetts cases have made it clear that to “prove causation in an asbestos case, it is plaintiff’s principal burden to show that a defendant’s product contained asbestos and that the victim was exposed to the asbestos in the defendant’s product.”  The issue in this matter is that the plaintiff has not shown that her husband was exposed to asbestos from a product manufactured by Cleaver-Brooks.  Mr. Charbonneau believed that the parts contained asbestos because of the high-heat application, and he could not recall the name of the replacement parts. Additionally, Mr. Charbonneau removed one boiler during the course of his employment and he was not sure whether the boiler was Cleaver-Brooks.  There is no evidence in the record that the replacement parts Mr. Charbonneau worked with were asbestos parts manufactured or supplied by Cleaver-Brooks.  As such, the court granted Cleaver-Brook’s motion for summary judgment, holding that the plaintiff failed to meet her burden to show that the defendant’s product contained asbestos and that the victim was exposed to the asbestos in the defendant’s product.

Read the full decision here.



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