Summary Judgment Granted to Three Defendants in Friction Exposure Case

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U.S. District Court for the Middle District of North Carolina, November 9, 2021

In this matter, the plaintiff alleged that the decedent, Robie Walls, was exposed to asbestos during his career as a tractor-trailer fleet mechanic from 1960 to 2002. Mr. Walls was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2019 and passed away on October 15, 2020.

Three defendants filed motions for summary judgment, and the court consolidated its decision on all three. Defendants DCo LLC and Eaton Corp. filed motions for summary judgment on all claims, and defendant Morse Tec LLC moved for partial summary judgment on the plaintiff’s punitive damage claim only. The plaintiff did not oppose any of the motions.

DCo argued that the plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Walls’ alleged mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to DCo products. The court found that while Mr. Walls testified that he “occasionally worked with DCo gasket and clutches,” he could not recall any instances of using DCo gaskets and recalled only one or two instances of using DCo clutches. The plaintiff did not oppose DCo’s motion and did not provide any additional evidence in support of her claims. Therefore, the court found that the plaintiff’s claims against DCo failed as a matter of law, and DCo’s motion was granted.

Eaton also argued that the plaintiff failed to create a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Mr. Walls’ alleged mesothelioma was caused by his exposure to Eaton products. The plaintiff initially alleged that Mr. Walls worked with Eaton truck axles, but Mr. Walls did not testify to this. The plaintiff did not oppose Eaton’s summary judgment motion and did not provide any additional evidence in support of her claims. Therefore, the court found that the plaintiff’s claims against Eaton failed as a matter of law, and Eaton’s motion was granted.

Finally, Morse Tec moved for summary judgment on the plaintiff’s claim for punitive damages. Morse Tec argued that the plaintiff failed to produce testimony or any internal documents demonstrating recklessness or intentional disregard for the dangers of asbestos. The plaintiff did not oppose Morse Tec’s motion and did not provide any evidence that the company engaged in fraud, malice, or willful or wanton conduct. As such, the court granted Morse Tec’s motion dismissing the punitive damages claim.

Read the full decision here.