U.S. District Court for the District of Delaware, July 16, 2021
The plaintiffs filed this lawsuit alleging the decedent developed lung cancer and died as a result of asbestos exposure from several of the defendants’ products, including Crane Co. The decedent worked for the North Carolina Department of Administration as a plumber. He worked directly on various items, including boilers, pumps, compressors, and piping. The decedent’s brother offered testimony that the decedent worked on Crane Co. boiler steam header valves. However, he was not able to recall the manufacturer of the old or replacement packing material used in conjunction with the valves. The decedent’s brother also offered testimony that the decedent worked with Crane Co. gate valves in the manhole area, but he did not recall if this work would have exposed the decedent to asbestos.
Defendant Crane filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that the plaintiffs have failed to show that the decedent was exposed to an asbestos-containing product made, sold, or otherwise controlled in its use by Crane Co. In the response, the plaintiffs cited documents produced by Crane Co. which demonstrated Crane Co.’s past history of incorporating asbestos-containing materials in its valves.
The parties agreed that North Carolina substantive law applied to all claims at issue in this matter. To survive a motion for summary judgment in an asbestos-related products liability action, the plaintiffs’ evidence must demonstrate that he was actually exposed to the alleged offending products. The plaintiffs in a personal injury asbestos case must prove more than a casual or minimum contact with the product containing asbestos in order to hold the manufacturer of that product liable. Rather, the plaintiffs must present evidence of exposure to a specific product on a regular basis over some extended period of time in proximity to where the decedent actually worked.
To defeat the summary judgment motion, the plaintiffs argued the evidence in the record reflected the undisputed fact that the decedent worked with Crane Co. valves. However, the court noted this fact alone was insufficient to show the decedent was actually exposed to the alleged offending products. The court also noted the plaintiffs’ circumstantial evidence failed to create a factual issue such that a reasonable jury could find that the decedent was exposed to asbestos attributable to Crane Co. The exhibits upon which the plaintiffs relied do not show that the Crane Co. valves on which the decedent worked required asbestos-containing packing material or gaskets to function.
As such, the court recommended granting defendant Crane Co.’s motion for summary judgment because, without speculation, the record failed to create a factual issue as to whether the decedent was exposed to asbestos attributable to Crane Co. Furthermore, the court granted Crane Co.’s motion for summary judgment with respect to the failure to warn claim because it required evidence of exposure and causation which is deficient in the record.