Pump Manufacturer Granted Summary Judgment on Causation Grounds

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U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, April 28, 2021

The plaintiff alleged that the decedent, Carl E. Gay, was exposed to asbestos while serving in the United States Navy and the United States Air Force from 1946 to 1958 and 1958 to 1967, respectively; and while employed by General Electric Co. from 1967 to 1974 and Stone and Webster from 1974 to 1989; and from performing Shadetree automotive work beginning in the 1940s. Mr. Gay was deposed over the course of nine days and identified various manufacturers and suppliers of asbestos-containing products. He passed away several months after his deposition. Defendant, A.O. Smith Corp. moved for summary judgment.

The plaintiff alleges that the decedent was exposed to asbestos products used with A.O. Smiths’ pumps aboard the USS Seawolf. All parties agreed that the substantive law of Pennsylvania applied. As to causation, Pennsylvania has adopted the frequency, regularity, and proximity standard. At the summary judgment stage, the court is to determine whether “a jury would be entitled to make the necessary inference of a sufficient causal connection between defendant’s product and the asserted injury.” With regard to the proximity prong, “a plaintiff cannot merely show that the product was present at the plaintiff’s workplace; he must present evidence to establish that the plaintiff inhaled asbestos fibers of the specific product of a manufacturer.” In addition, “[a] the plaintiff cannot survive summary judgment when mere speculation would be required for the jury to find in the plaintiff’s favor.” Further, “[s]imply establishing that a defendant’s product was merely present at a plaintiff’s place of work is insufficient … Instead, the plaintiff must show “a high enough level of exposure that an inference that the asbestos was a substantial factor in the injury is more than conjectural.” (internal citations omitted).

The parties do not dispute that the decedent did not recall working with or around A.O. Smith’s pumps. The only evidence the plaintiff provided was a report showing that A.O. Smith’s pumps were in some way incorporated into the USS Seawolf. The report did not reveal where the pumps were located or for what purpose they were used. The court indicated that the plaintiff’s evidence is, at best, borderline to establish sufficiency under applicable legal standards. Moreover, the plaintiff argued that asbestos-containing packing material was require to be used for the life of equipment without further specifying the type of equipment. The court found this argument unavailing noting that generalized accusations are not enough to establish that the decedent was exposed to an asbestos-containing product of A.O. Smith with sufficient frequency, regularity, and proximity.

Ultimately, the court found that a genuine issue of material fact does not exist in this case. Therefore, the court granted A.O. Smith’s motion for summary judgment.

Read the full decision here.