Magistrate Judge Recommends Various Rulings on Five Summary Judgment Motions Filed by Defendants

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The United States Magistrate Judge recommended disposition on five summary judgment motions filed by various defendants in this mesothelioma case wherein plaintiffs alleged asbestos exposure during plaintiff Mark Hillyer’s employment with the U.S. Navy from 1967-1997.  The only product identification witness was plaintiff Mark Hillyer, who testified that he was exposed to asbestos through his maintenance work on reactor plant systems, steam plant systems, engines, and turbine generators.  In deciding these motions, the court applied maritime law such that plaintiff must show that (1) he was exposed to defendants’ product and (2) the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury he suffered.  The plaintiffs alleged strict liability, negligence, and loss of consortium claims.  The court recommended granting summary judgement for each defendant on the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claims, and recommended various rulings regarding plaintiffs’ other claims.

The summary judgment for Mine Safety Appliances Company (MSA), Copes-Vulcan, and Crane Co. were recommended to be granted in part and denied in part.  The plaintiff associated MSA with steam suits, Copes with valves and Anchor and Garlock packing, and Crane with valves.  MSA argued the plaintiffs could not prove the suit was made by MSA, and if it was, any exposure was de minimus.  However a genuine issue of material fact existed as to whether exposure to this suit was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s mesothelioma, and whether the suit was defective due to inadequate warnings or failure to warn.  Further, whether the government contractor defense insulated MSA from liability was a question for the jury.  The same rulings were recommended for Copes and Crane, because genuine issues of material fact existed as to substantial factor causation.

The summary judgement for Spirax Sarco and Air & Liquid Systems Corporation, successor in interest to Buffalo Pumps, were both recommended to be granted.  The plaintiff testified there was a Sarco evaporator and steam trap on one ship he served upon, and worked on one Buffalo pump.  The plaintiff provided no evidence that gaskets used on the steam trap were placed into the stream of commerce by Sarco, and even if they were, such exposure was not a substantial factor because he only worked on these traps once or twice.  The same was recommended for Buffalo, as “…Plaintiffs have not shown ‘a high enough level of exposure that an inference that the asbestos was a substantial factor in the injury is more than conjectural.’”

Read the full decision here.