Court Denies Partial Motion for Summary Judgment on Punitive Damages Against John Crane While Granting Full Summary Judgment for Other Defendants

Icom Henry Evans and Johanna Elaine Evans filed an asbestos related personal injury action in the Delaware Superior Court against multiple defendants on June 11, 2015, asserting injuries arising from Mr. Evans’ alleged harmful exposure to asbestos. Defendant John Crane filed a partial motion for summary judgment as to the plaintiffs’ punitive damages claim. John Crane admits to having knowledge of the hazards of asbestos by 1970. However, the parties dispute whether John Crane had knowledge of the hazards of asbestos before 1970. The parties further dispute whether John Crane’s knowledge after 1970 is relevant to consideration of the punitive damages issue.

Punitive damages are limited to situations where “a defendant’s conduct is ‘outrageous,’ owing to ‘gross negligence,’ ‘willful, wanton, and reckless indifference for the rights of others,’ or behavior even more deplorable.” “Punitive damages are not intended to compensate the plaintiff for a loss suffered, but instead are ‘imposed for purposes of retribution and deterrence.’ ” The plaintiffs argue that (1) John Crane had actual knowledge of the hazards of asbestos as early as the 1930s, and (2) John Crane’s post-exposure conduct provides evidence that is probative of John Crane’s willful, wanton, and reckless state of mind. John Crane argues that the plaintiffs have no evidence establishing that by 1967, John Crane had actual knowledge that exposure to its asbestos-containing packing or gaskets caused an asbestos-related disease. As such, John Crane argues there is no evidence that it sold asbestos-containing products in a willful, wanton, or reckless manner, which would support a claim for punitive damages.

The court denied John Crane’s motion and commented, “Thus, a dispute of material fact exists as to whether John Crane knew asbestos-containing products were harmful by 1967. As such, it is recommended that a trier of fact should determine whether John Crane knew asbestos-containing products were harmful, and chose not to warn potential users of the health risks. Furthermore, the trier of fact should determine if John Crane had such knowledge, and whether John Crane continued, nonetheless, to sell products in a manner that was in willful or wanton disregard, or in reckless indifference of potential harm to others. Therefore, the court recommends denying John Crane’s motion for partial summary judgment.”

The court in the same matter ruled on motions filed by defendants Foster Wheeler Energy Corporation, and Warren Pumps. The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Evans developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos-containing products during the course of his employment as a fireman and boiler tender with the U.S. Navy from 1957 to 1967. Mr. Evans stated there were four Foster Wheeler boilers aboard the USS Bole, and that he worked on two of them. Mr. Evans testified that he would help with the refractory and the re-bricking of the furnaces on the Foster Wheeler boilers. Further, Mr. Evans stated that he worked on pumps and valves aboard the USS Kearsarge. However, Mr. Evans could not remember the manufacturer of any of the pumps aboard the USS Kearsarge.

Foster Wheeler argued that the bare metal defense applied to the facts of the case and was a full defense. The court agreed and stated:, “Plaintiffs have failed to show that a material issue of fact exists as to whether Mr. Evans was exposed to asbestos from products manufactured or supplied by Foster Wheeler aboard the USS Bole. Consequently, the court recommends granting Foster Wheeler’s motion for summary judgment.” Warren Pump’s Motion was similarly granted. The court held that Mr. Evans’ testimony was not enough to establish exposure to an asbestos-containing product manufactured by Warren Pumps aboard the USS Bole.

Read the full decision here.