Lack of Exposure Evidence Leads to Grant of Summary Judgment for Railroad Defendant

IDAHO — The plaintiffs filed suit against Union Pacific Railroad (Union Pacific) alleging that Rollie Stephens had brought asbestos home on his work clothes which caused his son, William, to develop mesothelioma. Specifically, the plaintiffs argued that Rollie Stephens was exposed to asbestos from his work at the Weiser roundhouse working on steam locomotives that contained insulation. Union Pacific moved for judgment as a matter of law. The plaintiff moved for summary judgment as to affirmative defenses.

The court began its analysis with the standard for summary judgment and stated that “summary judgment is appropriate where a party can show that, as to any claim or defense, there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact.” Union Pacific began its argument that it was entitled to judgment as a matter of law because the Locomotive Inspection Act (LIA) barred the plaintiffs’ claims. The parties agreed that the decision in the recent Kurns opinion was critical to the court’s analysis. Kurns dealt with a machinist railroader in state law defective design and failure to warn claims. According to the court, the question for the court was whether the plaintiffs’ claims were directed toward exposure from locomotive equipment. Notably, negligence was not the basis for liability under the LIA according to the court. On its face, the Stephens’ claims is subject to the LIA and the defendant would be entitled to judgment as a matter of law. However, Union Pacific had not raised pre-emption as a defense and therefore waived it according to the court.

The court then moved to Union Pacific’s motion for summary judgment. The court immediately noted that the plaintiffs must prove exposure in order to survive summary judgment. In the instant matter, only William Stephens was able to provide some evidence as to potential exposure. Here, Mr. Stephens could not testify as to products or materials that his dad may have worked with or around. Accordingly, The plaintiff could not sustain their burden under Idaho’s substantial factor test. Summary judgment was therefore appropriate for Union Pacific.

Read the full case decision here.