Multiple Defendants Granted Summary Judgment in Maritime Action on Lack of Causation

WASHINGTON – The plaintiffs filed suit against multiple defendants, including Foster Wheeler Energy Corporation, Warren Pumps, and Air & Liquid Systems Corporation, alleging that their decedent, Deem, developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing products while working as a machinist at the Puget Naval Shipyard from 1974-1981. Two co-workers testified as to work performed at the shipyard. Work included repairs on lots of equipment including valves, pumps, catapults, distilling plants, turbines, compressors, and steam traps. Additional tasks included removal of old flange gaskets, according to one of the witnesses. Scraping the flanges with a scraper and wire brush created dust in the air, according to that witness. The co-worker testified that cutting new gaskets created “light dust flying, you know, coming off of it.” The plaintiffs utilized Captain Arnold Moore as their expert in ship maintenance aboard navy ships. They also retained Dr. Edwin Holstein as the plaintiffs’ medical expert. Using Moore’s report, Holstein found that “Deem experienced innumerable exposures to asbestos, which cumulatively constituted the direct and sole cause of his malignant mesothelioma.” The defendants moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiffs failed to offer evidence as to causation.

The court began its analysis by noting the standard for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. The court agreed with the plaintiffs that maritime law applied to this matter. Under that standard, the plaintiffs have to show that “Deem was actually exposed to asbestos-containing materials that were installed by a defendant and that such exposure was a substantial contributing factor in causing his injuries.” Here, the court agreed with the defendants that the plaintiffs failed to establish their burden. Specifically, the plaintiffs lacked any direct evidence that Deem was exposed to the defendants’ products. In fact, the plaintiffs’ evidence only showed that some of the products at the shipyard may have contained asbestos. Without more, the plaintiffs’ expert testimony was merely speculative. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted in favor of the defendants.