Naval Defendant Denied Summary Judgment as Causation Issues of Fact Remain

U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California, May 13, 2021

In this asbestos action, the decedent alleged asbestos exposure from pumps manufactured by defendant Warren at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard from 1962 until 1973, as well as at the Treasure Island Naval Base from 1974 until 1980. Warren moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff cannot show that the decedent was exposed to an asbestos-containing products attributable to Warren.

As a threshold matter, the parties did not agree as to whether maritime law or California state law applied to this case. The plaintiff argued that maritime law should not apply as the decedent’s exposure was primarily on land, and that the decedent’s work did not “bear a substantial relationship to traditional maritime activity. The court rejected both arguments. First, the court relied on Cabasug, which set forth that “the locality test is satisfied as long as some portion of the asbestos exposure occurred on a vessel on navigable waters.” Further, under Whalen, “courts presiding over naval asbestos lawsuits have held that maritime law applies.” As such, the court held that maritime law applied to this matter.

With regard to causation, Warren first argued that the plaintiff could not show exposure to asbestos from Warren pumps as the decedent did not work with any internal components of the pumps. In opposition, the plaintiff contended that the decedent worked with flange gaskets and insulation associated with Warren pumps. In support, the plaintiff submitted the decedent’s deposition testimony which noted that the decedent identified Warren pumps at both locations. The plaintiff also submitted deposition testimony from an unrelated matter which showed that Warren “sold pumps that included asbestos -containing gaskets and that it knew its pumps would require maintenance over time.” While Warren disputed that the decedent identified Warren pumps at both locations, the court held that this testimony created a dispute of material fact for the factfinder.

The plaintiff also argued that Warren was responsible for any third-party components associated with Warren’s pumps. Under DeVries:

[i]n the maritime tort context, a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when (i) its product requires incorporation of a part, (ii) the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses, and (iii) the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the product’s users will realize that danger.

In this matter, the plaintiff proffered evidence to show that Warren “knew that its pumps would require maintenance, including replacing gaskets, and that it sold asbestos-containing replacement gaskets.” The court found that the defendant did not show that it was entitled to summary judgment on this issue as the defendant did not address this theory of liability.

Finally, the court rejected Warren’s argument that the plaintiff’s causation expert reports were insufficient as they would provide testimony that “every exposure to asbestos is a substantial factor in causing mesothelioma.” However, the court did not believe that the evidence proffered showed that the plaintiffs’ experts would rely on the “every exposure” theory. Therefore, the court denied Warren’s summary judgment motion.

Read the full decision here.