Report and Recommendation on 20 Motions for Summary Judgment Based on Product Identification and Causation Adopted

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U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, December 2, 2021

In this matter the plaintiff, Darlene Data, sued numerous defendants on behalf of her husband, Michael Data, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma in January 2019 and died on February 6, 2020. Mr. Data served in the United States Navy from June 1969 to March 1973, including aboard the U.S.S. Newport News. From July 1973 to August 1974, he worked at the Crane Company foundry in New Castle, Pennsylvania. Next, he worked at Mesta Machine in New Castle, Pennsylvania from October 1974 until June 1982. Lastly, from November 1983 to October 2009, Mr. Data was employed at the West Pittsburgh Power Station (the Plant) in New Castle, Pennsylvania.

Twenty defendants, including distributors and manufacturers of valves, steam traps, pumps, gaskets, control panels, generators, turbines, compressors, oil purifiers, and forklifts, filed motions for summary judgment pertaining to product identification and causation. The Hon. Cynthia Reed Eddy, Chief U.S. Magistrate Judge, issued her Report and Recommendation as to each motion for summary judgment on November 9, 2021. On December 2, 2021, the Hon. Marilyn J. Horan, U.S. District Judge, adopted Judge Eddy’s Report and Recommendation as the Opinion of the Court.

While there were variations in the motions brought by the various defendants, the main arguments set forth in the motions were as follows: (1) the evidence was too speculative to establish exposure (e.g., mere presence); (2) the evidence failed to establish exposure on a frequent, regular, and proximate basis; (3) the evidence failed to identify a given product or exposure to that product; (4) there was a lack of evidence that a given product contained asbestos; and (5) there was a lack of evidence that a given product existed at a particular location.

The court granted the motions for summary judgment as to the following 14 defendants: M.S. Jacobs & Associates, Inc.; Flowserve US Inc.; Armstrong International, Inc.; The William Powell Company; Clyde Union, Inc.; I.U. North America, Inc.; Atwood & Morrill Co., Inc.; Viking Pump, Inc.; Dezurik, Inc.; Alfa Laval, Inc.; Hyster-Yale Group, Inc.; BW/IP, Inc.; Gardner Denver, Inc.; and Clark Equipment Company. The court granted the motions for reasons including the following: (1) the product was supplied to or installed at a given location decades before Mr. Data’s employment; (2) the evidence, while establishing that a product contained asbestos and was present at a location, failed to establish exposure on a frequent, regular, and proximate basis; (3) the evidence establishing exposure was based on speculation; (4) the evidence failed to show that Mr. Data encountered a given product in a way that caused him to breathe dust created from working with that product; (5) the evidence was insufficient to infer that a product was present at a location during Mr. Data’s employment; and (6) the evidence established only de minimus exposure.

For reasons similar to those mentioned above, the court granted in part and denied in part the motions for summary judgment of the following three defendants: DCo LLC, General Electric Company, and FMC Corporation.

The court denied the motions for summary judgment as to The Nash Engineering Company, Honeywell, Inc., and Air & Liquid Systems Corporation (Buffalo Pumps). The Nash Engineering Company’s motion was denied without prejudice due to a bankruptcy stay. As to Honeywell, the court found that evidence established that Honeywell valves were made with asbestos-containing gaskets and packing until 1983, Mr. Data was regularly present during the maintenance of the valves and assisted others in repacking them, and the Plant had hundreds of Honeywell valves. The court pointed out that “an individual exposed to asbestos does not need to directly testify he knew the product he was exposed to contained asbestos where there is other competent evidence showing the product contained asbestos.” As to Air & Liquid Systems, the court first noted that Buffalo Pumps required the use of asbestos-containing parts including gaskets, packing cement, and cloth in its pumps, which was sufficient for liability under maritime law. Furthermore, Mr. Data’s testimony that he worked on every pump in a particular engine room, another witness’s testimony that Buffalo Pumps were present in each engine room on the ship, and an expert opinion that Mr. Data’s exposure to asbestos gaskets and packing on Buffalo Pumps increased his risk of developing mesothelioma was sufficient to overcome summary judgment.

Read the dismissal order here.

Read the report and recommendation here.