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Asbestos Supplier’s Motion for Summary Judgment Denied on Causation Grounds

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U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania

The plaintiff’s decedent, Alfred Broderick, was allegedly diagnosed with asbestosis in March 2018, which he claimed was caused by exposure to asbestos. Mr. Broderick and his wife filed suit in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas in July 2018, and their case was removed to federal court in August 2018. Mr. Broderick passed away in January 2022, predeceased by his wife, who died in December 2021.

Prior to his passing, Mr. Broderick provided deposition testimony in which he alleged occupational exposure to asbestos when serving in theU.S. Navy as a boiler tender from 1957 to 1961, while working as a maintenance worker at First National Stores from 1962 to 1985, andwhile working as a forklift mechanic for Baker West. Regarding Mr. Broderick’s time as a maintenance worker at First National Stores, he testified that he was responsible for laying Kentile vinyl asbestos tiles, which entailed cutting, breaking, and cleaning dust from the tiles. The plaintiff asserted that one defendant, Union Carbide, was the sole and exclusive supplier of Claibide asbestos fiber, which was used in Kentile vinyl asbestos tiles between 1966 and 1968. Plaintiffs further averred that Union Carbide was also a major supplier of raw asbestos, generally, from 1969 to 1986.

Union Carbide moved for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiff was unable to meet their burden on causation. More specifically, Union Carbide argued that the plaintiff could not meet his burden because (1) Union Carbide was only one of several suppliers of asbestos for the products at issue; (2) there was no evidence that Mr. Broderick’s exposure to any asbestos supplied by Union Carbide was more than “de minimus;” and (3) The plaintiff lacked expert testimony that the products at issue were a substantial contributing factor in the development of Mr. Broderick’s asbestosis.

According to the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, asbestos litigants must establish exposure to a defendant’s product on a regular, frequent, and proximate basis to support a jury’s finding that a defendant’s product was substantially causative of the disease. Rust v. Ford Motor Co., 637 Pa. 625, 151 A.3d 1032 (Pa. 2016). Where there is exposure to multiple sources of asbestos that satisfy the “frequency, regularly, and proximity test,” when “coupled with competent medical testimony establishing substantial factor causation, it is for the jury to decide the question of substantial causation.” Id.

Here, the court gave credit to Mr. Broderick’s testimony that he laid Kentile vinyl asbestos floor tiles in the late 1960s and early 1970s, that this process created dust, and that Mr. Broderick completed this work in an enclosed space. The court gave further credit to the evidence presented by the plaintiff to establish that Union Carbide was Kentile’s exclusive supplier of asbestos vinyl floor tile in the late 1960s, and that Union Carbide remained a main supplier thereafter. Finally, in his opposition to Union Carbide’s motion for summary judgment, the plaintiff provided expert reports from Dr. James C. Giudice and Dr. Arthur L. Frank, both of whom opined to a reasonable degree of medical certainty that Union Carbide’s asbestos fibers were a factual and proximate cause of Mr. Broderick’s fibrosis. For these reasons, the court determined that issues of material fact remained on the question of causation and denied summary judgment as to Union Carbide.

Read the full decision here.