Turbine Defendants Obtain Summary Judgment Under the DeVries Bare Metal Defense Test

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, July 7, 2021

The plaintiffs alleged that John DeVries was exposed to asbestos from insulation associated with steam turbines on the U.S.S. Turner. The Asbestos Case Tracker has continuously covered the DeVries matter’s journey to the United States Supreme Court, and has covered DeVries in a comprehensive synopsis of The State of the Bare Metal Defense. The Supreme Court established a new bare metal defense standard and remanded the matter back to the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

In this matter, General Electric and CBS (Defendants) delivered the turbines without insulation. The insulation was subsequently applied by naval contractors in the shipyard. The defendants filed renewed motions for summary judgment, arguing that they were not liable for the plaintiff’s injuries under the new bare metal defense standard. In DeVries, the United States Supreme Court stated that:

[i]n the maritime tort context, a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when:

(i) its product requires incorporation of a part,

(ii) the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses, and

(iii) the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the product’s users will realize that danger.

Here, the district court found that the plaintiffs failed to meet the first prong of the DeVries test as they could not show that the defendants required the use of asbestos-containing insulation in connection with their steam turbines. The court highlighted how the Supreme Court clarified the “requires” prong, stating that the turbine required the asbestos-containing insulation:

in order for the integrated product to function as intended when:

(i) a manufacturer directs that the part be incorporated;

(ii) a manufacturer itself makes the product with a part that the manufacturer knows will require replacement with a similar part; or

(iii) a product would be useless without the part.

The court addressed all three instances of the requirement prong in turn. First, the plaintiff could not show that the defendants directed the Navy to apply asbestos-containing insulation to its maritime turbines on the U.S.S. Turner. In addition, the insulation plans for the turbines on the Turner were created by an architect, and not by the defendants. Second, since the defendants did not manufacture and ship the maritime steam turbines with asbestos-containing insulation, they did not make the turbines knowing that the turbines would require replacement asbestos-containing insulation. Finally, the turbines would not have been “useless” without asbestos-containing insulation as non-asbestos containing insulation, such as aluminum foil or rock wool based insulation, was known to and approved for use by the Navy. Therefore, the plaintiff failed to meet the first prong of the DeVries bare metal defense test. Thus, the court granted the defendants’ renewed motion for summary judgment.

Read the full decision here.