Applying Maritime Law, Plaintiff Unable to Provide Sufficient Evidence Linking Decedent to Any John Crane Product

In this federal court case it was alleged that the decedent, Richard Bell, was exposed to asbestos while serving on the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt from 1960-64.  Defendant John Crane Inc. moved for summary judgment, arguing that maritime law applies and the plaintiff’s evidence fails to prove that decedent was exposed to any of its asbestos-containing products or that the products were a substantial factor in decedent’s lung cancer.

The plaintiff did not oppose the application of maritime law.  The court spelled out that for a defendant to be liable under maritime law a plaintiff must show “that (1) the plaintiff was exposed to the defendant’s product and (2) the product was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury.  There must be evidence of more than a ‘minimal contact’ or ‘minimal exposure’ to the defendant’s product.  A plaintiff may raise a genuine issue of material fact by presenting direct evidence that he worked on or near the asbestos-containing components of specific products.  “A plaintiff may also present circumstantial evidence of exposure; evidence regarding the prevalence of a defendant’s product, combined with evidence of a plaintiff’s regular duties, may support the reasonable inference that a plaintiff worked on a particular product.  A plaintiff does not have to present direct evidence that he recalled working on a particular product by the defendant or recall the particular vessel upon which it was installed.” (Internal citations omitted)

The court granted John Crane’s motion, holding: “There is insufficient evidence to connect Bell with any John Crane products or to connect a John Crane product with asbestos that caused Bell’s lung cancer. Plaintiff’s sole witness was unsure whether he worked with Bell. Loveless only worked with a Bell while serving in laundry sorting detail. Although Loveless testified that he may have used packing manufactured by John Crane, there is no evidence that Bell also worked with or around any packing materials. Loveless testified that he never witnessed Bell working with or around any packing material. Plaintiff also did not know whether Bell worked with packing while in the military.”

Read the full decision here.