Court Recommends Granting Summary Judgment to Pump and Valve Manufacturer

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On March 25, 2020, the U.S. District Court for Delaware “recommended” granting summary judgment to defendants Flowserve US, Inc. and Air & Liquid Systems Corporations. By way of background, plaintiffs Pietro Vocciante and Rosalba V. Assante filed a personal injury action against multiple defendants including Flowserve US, Inc. and Air & Liquid Systems Corporation alleging that Mr. Vocciante developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing materials during his career as a cadet engineer aboard various oil tanker ships. Mr. Voccinate (“decedent”) subsequently died and an amended complaint was filed substituting Laura Vocciante, the Administrator of the Estate of Mr. Vocciante, as plaintiff for Mr. Vocciante.

Decedent was not deposed prior to his death. Plaintiff produced two product identification witnesses, Mr. D ‘Abele and Mr. Lavadera, for depositions. Mr. D ‘Abele was not stationed on the same ships at the same times as decedent and did not serve as a cadet engineer. Mr. D ‘Abele testified as to the job responsibilities of cadet engineers based upon his personal observations while serving on the Massachusetts Getty. Among those job duties, Mr. D ‘Abele testified that cadet engineers repaired pipes, tubes, pumps, valves, and turbines. Mr. D ’Abele never met decedent, worked alongside him or witnessed the repairs he performed. Mr. D ‘Abele recalled Buffalo pumps and Edward valves being used aboard Getty ships. He could not recall where he saw a Buffalo pump. He recalled Edward valves on the Massachusetts Getty and Texas Getty, but could not recall where he saw the valves on these ships.

Mr. Lavadera served as a cadet engineer aboard various Texaco ships, including the Texaco Bristol, before being promoted to third engineer. He testified that decedent trained him for three days aboard the Texaco Bristol. Decedent performed repairs on pipes, pumps, and valves. With regard to the valves, Mr. Lavadera testified that decedent performed repairs on “something like Cray and Cray Crane” then later identified “Eduardo” as a brand of valves used aboard the Texaco Bristol. He also testified that he assisted decedent repair a pump that had a symbol of a buffalo on the pump.

The court noted summary judgment shall be granted only if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.  Material facts are those that could affect the outcome of the proceeding, and “a dispute about a material fact is ‘genuine’ if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party.”  Maritime law applies to alleged exposure on the ships on which decedent worked.  The court stated that in order to establish causation in a claim for asbestos-related personal injuries under maritime law, a plaintiff must show, for each defendant, “that (1) he was exposed to the defendant’s product, and (2) the product was a substantial factor in causing the injury he suffered.” In order to establish substantial factor causation,  a plaintiff may rely upon direct evidence or circumstantial evidence that will support an inference that there was exposure to the defendant’s product for some length of time.

Ultimately, the court ruled that Mr. D ‘Abele and Mr. Lavadera’s testimony failed to establish the “frequency, regularity, or proximity” of decedent’s work on Buffalo pumps or Edward valves to create a genuine issue of material fact regarding substantial factor causation.  The court recommended granting defendants’ motions for summary judgment. The parties may serve and file specific written objections within fourteen (14) days after being served with a copy of the report and recommendation.

Read the case decision here.