Claims Against Insulation Supplier Barred By Government Contractor Defense Court of Appeal of California, First District, Division 4, April 19,2018

CALIFORNIA — Plaintiffs Paula Tarjani, Phyllis Newman, and Patsy Rojo, daughters of the plaintiff’s decedent John Ball, brought claims against numerous defendants, alleging that the plaintiff’s decedent was exposed to asbestos while working as a joiner and shipwright from 1965 to 1972.  The plaintiff’s decedent worked at Mare Island aboard the USS Guitarro, USS Hawkbill, USS Pintado, and USS Drum.

Defendant Metalclad brokered Unibestos to the United States Navy, and filed a Motion for Summary Judgment, stating that the plaintiffs’ claims were precluded under the government contractor defense which shields military contractors from state tort law liability for defects in military equipment supplied to the United States.  Specifically, Metalclad argued that it met the three elements of the government contractor defense: 1) the United States approved reasonably precise specifications; 2) the equipment conformed to those specifications; and 3) the supplier warned the United States about the dangers in the use of the equipment that were known to the supplier but not the United States.

The trial court ruled that :”Defendant has shown by admissible evidence and reasonable inference therefrom that Metalclad is not liable as a government contractor.  The United States government approved precise specifications for the Metalclad-supplied Unibestos; the Metal-clad supplied Unibestos conformed to the government’s specifications; and Metalclad had no duty to warn the government because the government was well aware of the potential hazards of asbestos.”  The trial court further stated that Pittsburgh Corning, the manufacturer of Unibestos supplied by Metalclad, provided warnings.

The Appeals Court upheld the trial court’s ruling, and additionally held that “there simply is no evidence as to whether Metalclad could have directed Pittsburgh Corning to place an asbestos warning on the boxes of Unibestos, or whether Pittsburgh Corning could have, or would have, complied with such a request.  On this record, these are matters of speculation, which does not, and cannot, raise a triable issue.”

Read the full decision here.

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