Summary Judgment Motions Denied for Four Defendants in Two Maritime Cases Filed by Same Plaintiff

PENNSYLVANIA — Shortly before his death, Obediah Walker, Jr., filed an action in Pennsylvania state court alleging he was exposed to asbestos while serving on the USS Plymouth Rock while enlisted in the Navy from 1969 to 1971. He served as an electrician onboard the Plymouth Rock and was later diagnosed with lung cancer. He was deposed six days after filing suit and was only cross-examined by one defendant before he passed. The defendants Ingersoll-Rand, Warren Pumps and Blackmer Pumps did not cross-examine Walker. Obediah Walker, III later filed a second suit against other defendants, including Viad Corp. Both cases were removed shortly after they were filed.

All four defendants above filed for summary judgment based upon Walker’s lack of identification of their products onboard the Plymouth Rock. James Owens, one of Walker’s supervisors on the ship, was deposed and testified that Walker would have worked on every part of the ship, and that electricians stood watch in the engine room for four hours at a time. Owens also testified that Walker worked on pumps on the ship.

The plaintiff relied on documents from the USS LSD 28 class of ships of which the Plymouth Rock was a part. Those documents demonstrated that equipment from all four of the above defendants would have been present on the Plymouth Rock. Although the court precluded Walker’s deposition testimony because the defendants did not have an opportunity to cross-examine him, the court found that the other evidence, including manuals relating to each of the defendants’ products, were sufficient for a reasonable jury to conclude that the products caused Walker’s lung cancer. The court applied maritime law and rejected each defendants’ argument that the bare-metal defense defeated the plaintiff’s claims. The court found that there was sufficient evidence such that a jury could conclude that each defendant knew their products would contain asbestos, citing the flexible standard adopted by the Third Circuit in Devries v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp. As such, each of the four of the defendants’ motions for summary judgment were denied.

Only the Westlaw citation is currently available at 2019 WL 653216 and 2019 WL 653607.