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Summary Judgment Granted to Four Defendants Based on Lack of Frequency, Regularity, and Proximity

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina

The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Brock (the plaintiff) was exposed to asbestos-containing materials, products, and equipment throughout his 30-year career at R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company (RJR) in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and that this exposure in the course of his employment has resulted in his mesothelioma diagnosis. Four defendants, Covil Corporation, Daniel International Corporation, ViacomCBS Inc., a successor-in-interest to Westinghouse Electric Corporation, and Air & Liquid Systems Corporation, a successor-in-interest to Buffalo Pumps, Inc. have filed motions for summary judgment. The plaintiffs have filed cross motions for summary judgment against defendants Covil and Daniel.

The court noted that to prevail in an asbestos-related product liability action under North Carolina law, a plaintiff must establish that he was “actually exposed to the alleged offending products.” Moreover, the plaintiff must prove more than a casual or minimum contact with the product containing asbestos in order to hold the manufacturer of that product liable. As the present matter is in federal court on diversity grounds, the court noted that it is bound to apply the choice-of-law rules of the state which it sits. Therefore, North Carolina’s substantive law applies.  The court noted that to support a reasonable inference of substantial causation from circumstantial evidence, a plaintiff must introduce “evidence of exposure to a specific product on a regular basis over some extended period of time in proximity to where the plaintiff actually worked.” 

As to Covil, the plaintiff acknowledged during his deposition that he did not remember Covil doing any insulation work during his time at RJR.  Turning to defendant Daniel, the court noted that the plaintiff’s argument that Daniel workers installed and/or maintained insulation in the RJR facility did not place plaintiff in the vicinity of any insulation project managed by Daniel. As to defendant CBS’ motion for summary judgment, the court noted that while the plaintiffs were able to place the plaintiff in close proximity to the Westinghouse motors, they were unable to provide evidence that the Westinghouse motors at RJR contained asbestos. Lastly, as to defendant Buffalo, the plaintiffs presented no evidence that placed the plaintiff in close proximity to any Buffalo pump at the time of its repair or when asbestos from its gaskets or packing might otherwise be exposed. 

Consequently, the court concluded that the plaintiffs have failed to meet their burden to provide evidence that plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos-containing products was attributable to defendants Covil, Daniel, Westinghouse, or Buffalo.