Exception to Boiler Manufacturer’s Bare Metal Defense Found in Denial of Summary Judgment

James Stevens served as a boiler technician aboard the USS Allagash from July 7, 1951 until October 11, 1952. The boilers on the Allagash were manufactured by Foster Wheeler and included asbestos containing materials in their construction. Foster Wheeler additionally provided additional asbestos containing materials to be used in the boilers. Mr. Stevens was diagnosed with mesothelioma and passed away in 2015.

The plaintiffs brought suit against various defendants, including Foster Wheeler, in the U.S. District Court for the District of Rhode Island, alleging Mr. Stevens’ disease was caused by their use of asbestos containing products. Foster Wheeler filed a motion for summary judgment. The magistrate judge recommended that Foster Wheeler’s motion be denied. Foster Wheeler filed an objection to the report and recommendation of the magistrate judge. The court will then grant summary judgment, in the underlying motion subject to this appeal, only “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” The reviewing Judge reviews the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation de novo.

Foster Wheeler’s moved for summary judgment on five grounds: The plaintiff’s claims against Foster Wheeler are barred by the government contractor defense, Foster Wheeler is not liable for products it did not manufacture, design, supply, or install, the plaintiff’s claims against Foster Wheeler are barred by the “sophisticated user” defense, the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages is barred under maritime law, and the plaintiff’s claim for loss of consortium is barred under maritime law.

The court specifically noted that the exception to the “bare metal defense” stating, “where the defendant manufactured a product that, by necessity, contained asbestos components, where the asbestos-containing material was essential to the proper functioning of the defendant’s product, and where the asbestos-containing material would necessarily be replaced by other asbestos-containing material, whether supplied by the original manufacturer or someone else,” as applied by the Magistrate Judge, created a triable issue concerning Foster Wheeler’s duty to warn. The reviewing judge found that none of Foster Wheeler’s arguments warranted summary judgment. As such, the court accepted the magistrate judge’s report and recommendation.

Read the full decision here.