Summary Judgment Granted to Valve Manufacturer Based on Insufficient Evidence of Exposure

The plaintiff filed suit in the Superior Court of Rhode Island, Providence for personal injuries and wrongful death alleging plaintiff’s decedent use of asbestos products with defendant’s valves were foreseeable to the defendant and, under a negligence theory, the defendant failed to warn of the associated hazards.

The defendant moved for summary judgment under Maine Law, to which both parties agreed upon, on November 16, 2016, and argued that the plaintiff failed to offer, and have no reasonable expectation of offering any evidence that plaintiff’s decedent was exposed to an asbestos-containing product manufactured by the defendant.  The defendant further argued that, “even if Maine law allowed liability to third-party component products, the plaintiff failed to provide sufficient evidence that any products manufactured or supplied by the defendant even contained asbestos.

The plaintiff opposed the defendant’s motion arguing that the defendant admitted it sold asbestos-containing valves from 1858, and that it only discounted this practice in the mid-1980s.  The plaintiff further asserts that defendant was negligent and breached its duty when it failed to warn of the dangers of asbestos in either its own products or products used in conjunction with the defendant’s products.

Upon review of the evidence presented, the Supreme Court of Rhode Island, Provide found that defendant had met its burden by demonstrating that “Plaintiff had not alleged sufficient exposure to an original asbestos-containing product of the defendant.” [Citation Omitted].  The court outlined that the Supreme Judicial Court of Maine, under Maine law, stated that a plaintiff must provide sufficient evidence of product nexus in order to survive summary judgment.  See Grant v Foster Wheeler, LLC, 140 A3d 1242, 2016 ME 85 (2016).  The court went on to define product nexus as 1) a defendant’s asbestos-containing product, 2) at the site where the plaintiff worked or was present, and 3) where the plaintiff was in proximity to that product at the time it was being used. Id. The court went further to state that a plaintiff must not only prove that the asbestos product was used at the worksite, but also that the employee inhaled the asbestos from the defendant’s product.  Id. 

Accordingly, this court found  that evidence of a mere possibility of exposure to a potential asbestos-containing product is not enough to overcome summary judgment, and courts have declined to proceed with such an analysis when a plaintiff cannot make a threshold showing of product nexus.

Read the full decision here.