Plaintiffs’ Asbestos-Related Claims Not Time Barred Under Vermont’s Statute of Repose

Superior Court of Delaware, New Castle

In this asbestos matter, the plaintiff, Thomas Pearsons, alleged exposure from maintaining and cleaning a Mergenthaler Model 8 Linotype machine in connection with his employment in a newspaper printing shop. The defendant, Heidelberg, as successor in interest of Mergenthaler Linotype Company, moved for summary judgment on several grounds. First, Heidelberg argued that the plaintiff failed to satisfy the causation standard under Vermont law. However, the court set forth the plaintiff maintained the machine a couple times a day and cleaned the debris from the machine on a nightly basis from 1964 until 1967. When viewing the evidence in the light most favorable to the plaintiff, the court found that the record showed greater than de minimis exposure, which satisfied the substantial factor causation standard.

Second, the court determined that the plaintiff’s causes of action were not time barred under Vermont’s asbestos-related statute of repose. The court set forth that if negligent acts or omissions occur before the enactment of the statute, the plaintiff’s right to recover vests under 12 V.S.A. § 518(a). Notably, the Vermont Legislature enacted 12 V.S.A. § 518(a) in 1967. Here, the court held that the plaintiff’s claims were not time barred as greater than de minimis exposure occurred before 1967.

Third, Heidelberg contended that the plaintiff misused the Mergenthaler Linotype machine. In support, Heidelberg submitted expert testimony that any asbestos-containing insulation was internally located and sealed. The expert further testified that the areas of the machine the plaintiff maintained were not insulated, and that insulation was not specified or required for the machine to function. However, the court noted the plaintiff’s testimony that he learned to clean and maintain the machine through a four-year supervised apprenticeship program. He also testified that he obtained the asbestos-containing materials from Mergenthaler. In addition, the plaintiff’s testimony as to the sources of asbestos exposure were corroborated by excerpts from Mergenthaler catalogs, instruction books, and maintenance manuals. As such, the court determined that a genuine issue of material fact exists.

It should be noted that the court granted Heidelberg’s unopposed motion for summary judgment with regard to the plaintiff’s punitive damages claim.