Wooden judge gavel, close-up view.

Court Denies Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Jurisdiction: Supreme Court of New York, New York County

In this matter, Rockwell Automation, Inc. sought to dismiss the action against them on grounds that the plaintiff was not exposed to asbestos from burners manufactured by its predecessor, Timken-Detroit Axle Company.

When it comes to making a determination as related to a summary judgment motion, the court’s role is “issue-finding, rather than issue-determination.” Sillman v Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corp., 3 NY2d 395, 404, 144 N.E.2d 387, 165 N.Y.S.2d 498 (1957) “The proponent of a summary judgment motion must make a prima facie showing of entitlement to judgment as a matter of law, tendering sufficient evidence to eliminate any material issues of fact from the case.” Winegrad v New York University Medical Center, 64 NY2d 851, 853, 476 N.E.2d 642, 487 N.Y.S.2d 316 (1985). Additionally, summary judgment motions should be denied if the opposing party presents admissible evidence establishing that there is a genuine issue of fact remaining. See Zuckerman v City of New York, 49 NY2d 557, 560, 404 N.E.2d 718, 427 N.Y.S.2d 595 (1980). The Appellate Division, First Department, has held that on a motion for summary judgment, it is moving defendant’s burden “to unequivocally establish that its product could not have contributed to the causation of plaintiff’s injury.” Reid v Georgia-Pacific Corp., 212 AD2d 462, 463, 622 N.Y.S.2d 946 (1st Dep’t 1995).

Here, Rockwell argued plaintiff’s testimony attributing his asbestos exposure to primarily boiler-related parts as opposed to solely Timken burners, is dispositive of their liability in the underlying action. However, the court found this to be unconvincing.

Plaintiff argued the testimony regarding Timken burners was clear and consistent, and that asbestos-containing components were required to be used when installing Timken burners to the boilers. The court found the defendant had not done enough to prove Timken burners did not contain asbestos or required asbestos-containing parts in order to be installed, and that plaintiff did not encounter Timken burners during his lifetime of work as a mechanic, or that plaintiff’s illness could not have been caused by exposure to asbestos from Timken burners.

Ultimately, the court determined Rockwell failed to meet its initial burden in establishing that its product did not contain asbestos and could not have contributed to plaintiff’s asbestos exposure. The court found a reasonable juror could decide that plaintiff was exposed to asbestos from the use or exposure to Timken burners; thus it was determined issues of fact exist to preclude summary judgment.

Read the full decision here.