Coke Ovens are Real Property and Not Subject to Product Liability Theories

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Defendant Honeywell International, Inc., successor in interest to Wilputte Coke Oven Division of Allied Chemical Corporation, appealed from an order denying its motion for summary judgment. The plaintiff sought damages for injuries sustained by decedent Donald Terwilliger from asbestos exposure and coke oven emissions while employed at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, New York. The court reversed and granted Honeywell’s motion.

Honeywell was sued as the successor to Wilputte Coke Oven Division of Allied Chemical, the designer and builder of five coke oven batteries at Bethlehem Steel. Honeywell argued that the coke oven batteries were not products for purposes of product liability theories, and the transaction between Wilputte and Bethlehem was one for services, not goods.

Prior case law concluded, with regards to coke oven batteries, that by common-law standards these structures were real property due to their size and permanent attachment to the land. Honeywell described the intense process to construct the batteries. In light of this process, the court determined that the transaction between Honeywell and Bethlehem Steel was a contract for services, rather than for the sale of a product. “We further conclude that a coke oven, installed as part of the construction of the ‘great complex of masonry structures’ at Bethlehem (citations omitted), permanently affixed to the real property within a coke oven battery, does not constitute a ‘product’ for purposes of plaintiff’s products liability causes of action…”.

Read the full decision here.