Standard Based Approach in Bare Metal Defense Permits Sailors to Recover in Negligence U.S. Court of Appeals, Third Circuit, October 3, 2017
The plaintiffs filed suit in negligence and strict liability against several defendants arguing their decedents died from mesotheliomas as a result of their exposure to asbestos containing products for which defendants were responsible. Both plaintiffs alleged exposure while working on-board naval vessels. The defendants removed the case to federal court and summary judgment was granted in their favor on the bare metal defense. The plaintiff separately appealed on the issues of negligence. The appeal was remanded to sort out the negligence issue against the backdrop of the split in authority regarding the bare metal defense. The court applied the bright line rule finding that the bare metal defense applied to both strict liability and negligence. The appellate court then consolidated both cases on yet another round of appeals.
The court’s analysis began with an acknowledgment of the split that exists concerning the bare metal defense. The bright line rule found in Lindstrom states that a manufacturer is not liable for injuries when asbestos is later added to the defendant’s bare metal products. The other rule found in Quirin, holds the same manufacturer liable when the facts illustrate that the injury was reasonably foreseeable in light of the manufacturer’s conduct. The court determined that both approaches may be correct as duty and cause are founded within the defense. As the appellants had waived their argument on strict liability, the court was only concerned with the bare metal defense with respect to the appellants’ negligence claims. Focusing the defense on foreseeability alone does not close the issue according to the court. The court’s discussion then turned on the differences between rules and standards concluding that there are tradeoffs on which rule is applied. According to the court, maritime law’s purpose is to protect sailors from the perilous nature of their duties. Therefore, a standard like approach to the bare metal defense is more appropriate. Accordingly the court found that “a manufacturer of a bare metal product may be held liable for a plaintiff’s injuries suffered from later added asbestos containing materials if the facts show the plaintiff’s injuries were a reasonably foreseeable result of the manufacturer’s failure to provide a reasonable and adequate warning.” The court noted this standard should be applied at least for negligence claims but did not address the issue as to strict liability.