United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana, September 6, 2022
Plaintiff Ora Adams alleges that her husband, Lional Adams, was exposed to asbestos at defendant, Avondale’s, New Orleans area shipyards in the 1970s while Mr. Adams was employed as a pipefitter and welder. She contends that this work resulted in asbestos dust on his clothing, which Mr. Adams wore home and Ms. Adams would shake out before washing. Ms. Adams alleges that this exposure caused her lung cancer and filed suit against a variety of defendants, including Avondale.
Avondale brought a third-party complaint against Westinghouse as an alleged manufacturer of asbestos-containing Fire Retardant Decorative Micarta (“Micarta”), seeking to recover a share contribution from Westinghouse should it be found liable for Mr. Adam’s injuries.
Westinghouse seeks summary judgment on the grounds that Avondale has no evidence that Mr. and Ms. Adams were exposed to asbestos from any product or equipment manufactured, sold, or supplied by Westinghouse.
Avondale argues that Westinghouse’s motion for summary judgment should be denied because there are various contested facts, including:
(1) Whether Westinghouse developed and manufactured asbestos-containing Micarta for use aboard marine vessels until the 1970s. (2) Whether co-defendant, Hopeman, Brothers Inc. (“Hopeman”) cut and installed wallboards covered with Micarta on Avondale vessels, generating dust. (3) Whether Mr. or Ms. Adams sustained household exposure to asbestos dust as a result of Mr. Adam’s work in proximity to Hopeman employees at Avondale. (4) Whether Ms. Adam’s exposure to Micarta was a substantial factor in her development of lung cancer.
To prevail on the cause-in-fact element in asbestos matters when multiple causes of exposure are alleged, it must be proven that the plaintiff: (1) had significant exposure to asbestos attributable to the defendant, and (2) received an injury that was “substantially caused” by that exposure.
With regard to the first element, Avondale pointed to the deposition testimony of Mr. Adams where he stated that he frequently worked alongside Hopeman employees on ships under construction at Avondale. Avondale also cited to the deposition testimony of Hopeman’s
corporate representative, where he testified that Micarta was cut and used without ventilation at Avondale.
In response, Westinghouse argued that the corporate representative did not distinguish between asbestos-containing Micarta and asbestos-free Micarta. The court stated that, while Westinghouse’s argument may be true, it must refrain from assessing the credibility of the evidence when assessing whether a material fact exists.
Turning to the second element, Avondale cited to the deposition testimony of expert witness Brent Staggs, M.D., who concluded that “any paraoccupational exposure to asbestos suffered by Adams as a consequence of working around wallboards would . . . be a substantial contributing cause of her development of lung cancer.”
The court stated that this testimony is sufficient evidence to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Westinghouse Micarta was a substantial cause of Ms. Adam’s injury.
For these reasons, the court held that Avondale provided enough evidence to raise genuine issues of material fact and denied Westinghouse’s motion for summary judgment.
Read the full decision here