Navy Defendants’ Motion for Summary Judgment Denied as Factual Disputes Remained to Claimed Defenses

U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of California, February 10, 2021

The defendants’ motion for summary judgment was before the court. The court denied the motion finding several genuine issues of material fact remained unresolved.

First, the court found it was disputed as to whether exposure to defendants’ products was a “substantial factor in contributing to the aggregate dose of asbestos the . . . decedent inhaled or ingested.” The court concluded a reasonable fact-finder could conclude the plaintiff worked with Cutler-Hammer motor controllers and circuit breakers and was exposed to asbestos in excess of ordinary levels as a result. As to the claims against Foster Wheeler, the plaintiffs could not prevail with evidence about the USS Halsey or USS John S. McCain alone. A reasonable fact-finder could conclude that exposure to Foster Wheeler products aboard the USS Henderson was a substantial factor in contributing to the plaintiff’s asbestos-related cancer.

Second, the court found the record disclosed factual disputes only a jury could resolve regarding whether the defendants were entitled to the “military contractor” defense. The court found the defendants had not established beyond controversy that the United States approved reasonably precise specifications of the products at issue.

Third, the court found it disputed as to whether Foster Wheeler could prevail under the “bare metal” defense under federal maritime law. It was disputed (1) whether Foster Wheeler’s product required incorporation of a part, (2) whether Foster Wheeler knew or had reason to know the integrated product was likely to be dangerous for its intended uses, and (3) whether Foster Wheeler had no reason to believe the product’s users would realize that danger.

The court also concluded the defendants could not rely on the “sophisticated user” defense because California courts had expressly declined to extend the defense to employees of sophisticated users. Even though the Navy might be a sophisticated user, the court refused to extend the doctrine to the plaintiff, an employee of the Navy.