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District Court Denies Aviation Defendant’s Motion for Summary Judgment

Jurisdiction:  United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida

Decedent John McCabe died from malignant epithelioid mesothelioma in January 2023, following a career as an aircraft mechanic. His estate initiated this action, alleging strict products liability and negligence against dozens of defendants, including Curtiss-Wright. Curtis-Wright moved for summary judgment, arguing that plaintiff failed to submit any evidence to support the claim the decedent was exposed to asbestos from working on or around its products.

Summary judgment is appropriate when “The movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgement as a matter of law.”  Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). The movant bears “the stringent burden of establishing the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.”  Suave v. Lamberti, 597 F. Supp. 2d 1312, 1315 (S.D. Fla. 2008) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 323 (1986)). In a failure to warn or strict products liability matter, “the threshold burden is product identification.”  Sims v. Aerojet Rocketdyne, Inc. 2024 US Dist LEXIS 49923, at *7 (SD Fla Feb. 29, 2024, No. 22-62148-CIV-DIMITROULEAS); see Levine c. Wyeth Inc., 684 F.Supp.2d 1338, 1345 (M.D. Fla. 2010); Pulte Home Corp. v. Ply Gem Indus., Inc., 804 F. Supp. 1471, 1485 (M.D. Fla. 1992). 

Not only must a plaintiff establish evidence of product identification, but he must also show the alleged exposure substantially contributed to his asbestos-related disease. See Reaves v. Armstrong World Industries, Inc., 569 So. 2d 1307, 1309 (Fla. 4th DCA 1990).  

Defendant Curtiss-Wright argued the plaintiff failed to submit any evidence to support his claim of exposure as plaintiff failed to identify any Curtiss-Wright aircraft or product. In response, plaintiff introduced evidence that the decedent was exposed to asbestos from work on and around other aircraft mechanics’ work on a Curtiss-Wright-manufactured C-46 aircraft and that various components aboard the aircraft contained asbestos. 

Viewing this evidence in the light most favorable to plaintiff as the nonmoving party, the court determined that genuine issues of material factexist. As such, the court denied Curtiss-Wright’s motion for summary judgment.

Read the full decision here.