Lack of Specific Identification of Exposure Leads to Grant of Summary Judgment for Pump Manufacturer in Naval Case U.S. District Court of Delaware, July 15, 2019

DELAWARE – The plaintiff Hickman filed suit against several defendants including Air & Liquid Systems Corp. for its line of Buffalo pumps arguing that he developed asbestosis and asbestos related pleural disease as a result of his work with the defendants’ products while working onboard several ships in the United States Navy. Specifically, the plaintiff worked as a fireman onboard multiple naval ships from 1963- 1986. His work led him to encounter a variety of equipment and products including pumps, valves, generators, and insulation. A defendant removed the case to federal court on federal officer removal. The plaintiff filed an amended complaint and Air & Liquid moved for summary judgment.

The court started its analysis by reminding the standard for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate where the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. Here, the parties agreed that maritime law controlled the case. Causation is established in an asbestos suit if the plaintiff illustrates that:

  1. He was exposed to the defendant’s product
  2. The product was a substantial factor in causing the injury.

The plaintiff gave deposition testimony regarding his work with asbestos containing products onboard the various naval ships prior to his passing. Air & Liquid argued that it was entitled to summary judgment based on the plaintiff’s deposition testimony. Despite recalling Buffalo pumps onboard ships, the plaintiff could not recall which ship. Further, he could not recall the “type, purpose, function, size, horsepower, operating temperature, material or color of the Buffalo pump.” The plaintiff countered and offered a sworn declaration signed by the plaintiff which delineated specific details on Buffalo pumps he recalled having worked upon. Air & Liquid argued that the declaration was a sham since it contradicted the plaintiff’s original testimony. The court noted that the plaintiff did not offer anything to explain the stark contrast between his deposition testimony and subsequent declaration. Accordingly, the court found it appropriate to disregard the declaration. The plaintiff also argued that ship records from the National Archives illustrated that Buffalo pumps were found onboard ships where the plaintiff worked, like the USS Nicholas. The court disagreed and stated that unauthenticated records that suggested the presence of Buffalo pumps onboard did not show what type of gaskets and packing may have been utilized therein. Consequently, the magistrate recommended the granting of summary judgment as causation could not be established.

Read the case decision here.

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