Boiler, Burner, and Furnace Manufacturer Failed to Meet Summary Judgment Burden

Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence, July 21, 2021

In this asbestos action, Gerard Wallace (decedent) serviced and repaired existing boilers and furnaces, performed coal-to-oil conversions, and installed new boilers and furnaces. Defendant Electrolux moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff did not adduce evidence showing that the decedent worked with or around an Electrolux or Williams Oil-O-Matic product which had original asbestos-containing components manufactured, sold, or supplied by Electrolux or Williams Oil-O-Matic. While the plaintiff attempted to argue that Rhode Island substantive law applied to this matter, a defendant submitted correspondence from the plaintiff which stated that “Plaintiff is not contesting that Maine law applies regarding the above-captioned matter.” Further, the court determined that Maine bore the most significant relationship under Rhode Island’s “interest-weighing” choice of law approach as per Harodite Industries.

Under Maine law, “a plaintiff must demonstrate product nexus—that the decedent was exposed to the defendant’s asbestos-containing product” as well as “medical causation—that such exposure was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury.” With regard to product nexus, the court determined that the jury could find that the decedent worked with and was exposed to asbestos from servicing new Williams Oil-O-Matic furnaces or burners. With regard to medical causation, the court acknowledged that “the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine has also stated that issues of causation—such as whether a defendant’s conduct caused a particular injury—are questions of fact often best left for the jury.” As such, the court decided to leave the question of causation to the factfinder. Therefore, the court denied the defendant’s motion for summary judgment since the defendant did not meet its burden to show that the plaintiff failed to adduce sufficient product nexus and medical causation evidence.

Read the full decision here.