Summary Judgment to Navy Pump and Valve Manufacturers Overturned on Appeal

Posted by

Superior Court of Pennsylvania

This case involved a deceased mesothelioma claimant, Thomas Korol, who alleged that he was exposed to asbestos while serving as a fireman and fireman’s apprentice aboard the U.S.S. Dahlgren from 1961 to 1963. Mr. Korol died prior to being deposed and, as such, the plaintiffs had to rely on three fact witnesses who were deposed regarding their time spent on the U.S.S. Dahlgren, allegedly at the same time as Mr. Korol. One of the fact witnesses recalled working with Mr. Korol “occasionally” aboard the ship, and identified Crane valves and Warren pumps aboard. Notwithstanding, he conceded that he never saw Mr. Korol working on them. Instead he testified “if you worked in the fireroom or the engine room, you packed valves and you packed pumps.” The other two fact witnesses did not specifically recall working with Mr. Korol at all aboard the ship, though they also recalled Crane valves and Warren pumps aboard.

In addition to the fact witness testimony, the plaintiffs produced a naval expert report from Captain Arnold Moore that indicated that Warren provided asbestos-containing replacement parts for pumps on Navy ships, though the report did not specifically address the Dahlgren.

Crane and Warren filed motions for summary judgment, arguing that the evidence was insufficient to establish that Mr. Korol was exposed to asbestos from their products, or that such exposure was sufficient to cause disease. Specifically, none of the co-worker testimony established that Mr. Korol ever worked with or around their products.

In March 2022, Judge Fletman granted both motions, finding no genuine issue of material fact because the plaintiffs had relied on speculative evidence that would “require a jury to improperly speculate as to whether [the decedent] actually performed the tasks described by his co-workers, e.g., replacing the insulant in valves and pumps.” The case settled as to everyone in April 2022 and then, in May, the plaintiffs appealed Fletman’s decisions.

On appeal, the Superior Court of Pennsylvania found that the plaintiff had presented sufficient evidence, through the testimony of the co-workers, to create a material issue of fact as to the regularity or nature of Mr. Korol’s contact with Crane’s and Warren’s products. Specifically, the Superior Court noted as follows:

“Here, the record evidence shows that: Decedent worked as a fireman and fireman’s apprentice in the firerooms and engine rooms on the U.S.S. Dahlgren for a period of 28 months; those rooms contained pumps and valves manufactured by Warren and Crane, respectively; in those rooms, sailors often removed and replaced asbestos packing and gaskets on pumps and seal rings on valves by scraping gaskets from metal surfaces; the scraping created dust (asbestos fibers) that were released into the air; the confines of the fire rooms and engine rooms were extremely tight; and, because of the close quarters, anyone who worked in the firerooms and engine rooms would have been very close to someone scraping a gasket or would, himself, have been scraping a gasket such that he would have breathed in the asbestos particles.”

Given this, the superior court concluded that Judge Fletman erred in granting summary judgment to Crane and Warren, as it could not conclude that this case was so clear and free from doubt that Crane and Warren were entitled to judgment as a matter of law. The superior court thus reversed the decisions and remanded for further proceedings.

Read the full decision here.