Summary Judgment Granted for Cleaver-Brooks in Shipyard Case

WASHINGTON – The plaintiff’s decedent, Thomas Deem, worked at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 1974 to 1981. Two of Deem’s co-workers testified that he was exposed to asbestos while working around pumps, valves, turbines, compressors, steam traps, and other equipment on various ships as a marine machinist. Cleaver-Brooks filed a motion for summary judgment under maritime law because the plaintiff’s claim for wrongful death under Washington law was previously dismissed as time-barred.

Under maritime law, the plaintiff must show that the decedent was actually exposed to asbestos-containing materials that were installed by Cleaver-Brooks and that such exposure was a substantial contributing factor in causing his injuries. Furthermore, absent direct evidence of causation, a party may satisfy the substantial-factor test by demonstrating that the injured person had substantial exposure to the relevant asbestos for a substantial period of time. Analyzing the evidence, the court found that the plaintiff failed to meet her burden. The plaintiff produced no direct evidence of the decedent’s exposure to a Cleaver-Brooks product, let alone a Cleaver-Brooks product that contained asbestos. The plaintiff therefore had to rely on circumstantial evidence, which was also lacking. The two co-workers failed to establish that Cleaver-Brooks’s products were present at the decedent’s workplace.

Accordingly, the court found that the plaintiff failed to submit sufficient factual evidence to create material questions of fact, and granted Cleaver-Brooks’s motion for summary judgment.

Read the case decision here.