Summary Judgment Granted Where Worker’s Compensation Act Bars Plaintiff’s Claims U.S. District Court for the Western District of North Carolina, September 29, 2017
NORTH CAROLINA — Plaintiffs filed suit against Alcatel Lucent, as successor in interest to Western Electric and Bell Labs (Alcatel), alleging Mr. Moore developed mesothelioma as a result of his work as a cable puller from 1965-95. Alcatel moved for summary judgment, arguing that the North Carolina Worker’s Compensation Act (Act) prohibited the plaintiffs’ claims. The plaintiffs opposed summary judgment and took the position that the exception laid down by the court in Woodson applied.
The court’s analysis began with the standard for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate “if the movant shows there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as matter of law.” The Act provided that employers are only liable to the extent permitted by the Act itself. Specifically, section 97-10 limited recovery under the Act in order to prevent plaintiffs from seeking “potentially larger damage awards in civil actions.” However, an exception in Woodson exists when the employer’s misconduct was intentional. The plaintiffs sought application of this exception. The court noted that the plaintiffs presented evidence that Western Electric manufactured and/or supplied asbestos containing products that were used by Mr. Moore. Further, Mr. Moore would have to manipulate those products causing dust breathed by plaintiff. Finally, Western Electric would have been aware of the state and federal laws regarding asbestos and failed to warn plaintiff. The court quickly concluded that the evidence did not rise the narrow exception laid down in Woodson because the plaintiffs failed to establish defendant intentionally chose the alleged misconduct. Accordingly, summary judgment was granted.