Mask Manufacturer Defendant Successful on Summary Judgment

U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Texas, Houston Division, September 10, 2021

Decedent James LaFrentz was employed by General Dynamics Corporation from 1978 to 1984 at the Carswell Air Force Base in Fort Worth, Texas, as a drill press operator and a machinist. The complaint, filed by the plaintiffs in 2018 on behalf of the decedent, claimed that while performing his job, LaFrentz was exposed to asbestos which caused his mesothelioma. The plaintiffs alleged the 3M dust mask (the 8710 Respirator) the decedent wore did not sufficiently protect him from exposure to asbestos. 3M filed a motion for summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ claims for causation, fraudulent misrepresentation, and failure to warn.

Summary judgment is warranted “if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). “The movant bears the burden of identifying those portions of the record it believes demonstrate the absence of a genuine issue of material fact.” Triple Tee Golf, Inc. v. Nike, Inc., 485 F.3d 253, 261 (5thCir. 2007) (citing Celotex Corp. v. Catrett, 477 U.S. 317, 322-25 (1986)). Once a movant submits a properly supported motion, the burden shifts to the non-movant to show that the court should not grant the motion. Celotex, 477 U.S. at 321-25.The non-movant then must provide specific facts showing that there is a genuine dispute. Id. at 324; Matsushita Elec. Indus. Co. v. Zenith Radio Corp., 475 U.S. 574, 587 (1986).

First, 3M was successful on its causation argument by showing that the plaintiffs failed to produce sufficient evidence of the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” of the decedent’s asbestos exposure. In Texas, to show specific causation, a mesothelioma plaintiff “must prove that the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in causing the alleged harm.” Borg-Warner Corp. v. Flores, 232 S.W.3d 765, 774 (Tex. 2007). “[P]roof of mere frequency, regularity, and proximity [of exposure] is necessary but not sufficient, as it provides none of the quantitative information necessary to support causation under Texas law.” Id. at 772.

Next, in a Texas products liability fraudulent misrepresentation case, the plaintiff must show that he actually relied on the alleged misrepresentation by the defendant. Allgood v. R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., 80 F.3d 168, 171 (5th Cir. 1996). Likewise, a plaintiff cannot assert reliance on a written representation he did not read. Glenn v. L. Ray Calhoun & Co., 83 F. Supp. 3d 733, 745 n.5 (W.D. Tex. 2015). Here, the decedent testified that he never read any brochures, advertisements, warnings, or any other literature associated with the 3M 8710 Respirator. Accordingly, the plaintiffs could not show reliance on the alleged misrepresentations, and summary judgment was appropriate.

Finally, similar to a fraudulent misrepresentation claim, in a failure-to-warn claim, “failing to read the warnings provided negate[s] the causal link between the alleged inadequate warnings and the user’s injury.” Foltz v. Smith & Wesson Corp., 3:08-CV-0858-K, 2009 WL 2596598 (N.D. Tex. Aug. 20, 2009). 3M argued it had no duty to warn of risks inherent in other manufacturers’ products—namely, the risks associated with asbestos exposure that arise from products containing asbestos. The court agreed. 3M had no duty to warn of risks caused by other manufacturers’ products. Phares v. Actavis-Elizabeth LLC, 892 F. Supp. 2d 835, 845 (S.D. Tex. 2012). Therefore, the court found summary judgment as to a claim for 3M’s failure to warn of risks associated with asbestos exposure from other manufacturers’ products appropriate.

The court granted 3M’s motion in full.

Read the full decision here.