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Motion for Summary Judgment Denied under Sophisticated User and Purchaser Doctrine

Court: United States District Court for the Eastern District of Louisiana

In this asbestos action, plaintiff Ted Matherne Sr. worked at the Avondale Shipyards. In addition, defendant Hopeman Brothers Inc. placed Micarta from Westinghouse “as a component part of the composite wall and bulkhead panels it suppled to Avondale for use aboard ships.”

Defendant Paramount Global (Westinghouse) moved for partial summary judgment, arguing it had no duty to warn as defendant Hopeman was a sophisticated user and purchaser of Micarta. Westinghouse contends Hopeman was aware of the dangers of asbestos by pointing to documents from a former Hopeman executive regarding looking into ways to “create less dust in cutting the wallboards at issue” and issuing mandates to employees to limit breathing in dust. Westinghouse also cited to a previous order in another case where the judge dismissed the failure to warn claim against Westinghouse after reviewing the previously mentioned memoranda.

Both Hopeman and the plaintiff opposed. Hopeman contended that Westinghouse did not meet its burden to show that “Hopeman was aware of the totality of the risk associated with asbestos as Westinghouse did,” as well as that “Westinghouse had far more knowledge about the dangers associated with its product.” Plaintiff argued that the sophisticated purchaser doctrine is a state of mind issue more fit for a jury to decide, as well as that any “warning[s] must be one that is calculated to reach the user.”

Under Louisiana law, manufacturers have a duty to “provide warnings of the dangers inherent in their products, but that duty does not extend to sophisticated users or purchasers.” A sophisticated user is one who is “familiar with the product” or one who has “more than a general knowledge of the product and how it is used.”

Ultimately, the trial court denied the motion for partial summary judgment. The court found that “[t]here are genuine issues of material fact as to whether Hopeman had actual or constructive knowledge of the dangers associated with asbestos.” The court also set forth that granting summary judgment on this issue would be “inappropriate” as “this type of state of mind question is one often reserved for the jury.” Thus, the court denied the motion.