Superseding Cause/State of Art as to Navy’s Negligence and Knowledge of Asbestos Barred Against Sealing Technology Defendant

VIRGINIA –The plaintiff brought this suit against John Crane Inc. (JCI) alleging Mr. Goodrich developed an asbestos related disease for which Defendant was liable. The plaintiff moved in limine to preclude JCI from presenting evidence of the alleged “knowledge or negligence of the Navy.”

JCI argued that any failure to warn was not a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury based on the Navy’s negligent control of the plaintiff’s work space. Also, JCI took the position that the Navy’s intervening negligence superseded that of the defendant’s. The plaintiff countered and argued that JCI’s position was simply the superseding case doctrine. The Court quickly agreed with the plaintiff. The superseding doctrine under maritime law may shield a defendant from liability where “an intervening force brought about a harm that is different in kind from that which would otherwise have resulted from the actor’s negligence according to the court. However, the doctrine is only applicable if the “antecedent negligence is a substantial factor in bringing about the injury.” Here, the court noted that the Second Circuit rejected the argument that “the Navy’s subsequent failure to protect workers from the hazards of asbestos exposure was a superseding cause of a plaintiff’s injury that would absolve a manufacturer from liability”, in IN re Brooklyn Navy Yard Asbestos Litigation. JCI relied on White v. Johns-Mansville Corp., whereby the court noted that the superseding doctrine may asserted by the defendants. However, the court noted that White did not address whether the defense would have been successful. Moreover, JCI offered no evidence to support such a notion. Applying the summary judgment standard, the court ruled that JCI may present evidence of other exposures to defend against substantial contributing factor but could not present evidence concerning the Navy’s own negligence or knowledge of the dangers of asbestos.

Finally, the court reviewed JCI’s argument that Navy knowledge was a “critical component” of state of the art. The plaintiff countered that this argument was nothing more than an attempt to argue the sophisticated purchaser defense. The court explained that state of the art evidence helps “shape the duty owed” by presenting of the knowledge known at the time about the dangers of asbestos. JCI’s argument sought to show what the Navy knew rather than prove that JCI’s products were “designed according to the best methods available at the time.” Accordingly, the court ruled such evidence to be inadmissible.