U.S. District Court for the Western District of Washington, August 2, 2021
In this asbestos action, the plaintiff alleges that the decedent, John Dale Wineland, worked aboard a series of Navy ships and in Navy offices between 1963 and 1984. The plaintiffs allege that Mr. Wineland was exposed to asbestos contained in Powell products while aboard the USS Tuscaloosa between 1972 and 1974. Mr. Wineland worked primarily in the engine rooms of the ships to which he was assigned, repairing and maintaining machinery and equipment such as diesel engines, pumps, air compressors, and valves. Mr. Wineland developed mesothelioma, an asbestos-related disease, and died in 2018. The plaintiffs assert that Powell is liable for Mr. Wineland’s illness and death under theories of negligence and strict liability.
The defendant, The William Powell Company (Powell), filed an amended motion for summary judgment seeking dismissal of all of the plaintiffs’ claims, arguing that, under either Washington or maritime law, the plaintiffs have failed to produce admissible evidence from which a jury could reasonably conclude that Mr. Wineland’s exposure to asbestos from Powell products was a substantial contributing factor in his illness and death.
The court noted that maritime law applies to the plaintiffs’ tort claims. To establish causation under maritime law, the plaintiffs must show that Mr. Wineland’s exposure to asbestos from Powell products was a substantial contributing factor in causing his injuries. Moreover, evidence of only minimal exposure to asbestos dust attributable to each defendant is insufficient: the plaintiffs must provide evidence regarding the amount of exposure to dust attributable to Powell and, critically, the duration of such exposure. The court noted while there is evidence that Powell 3-inch diameter 150 psi steel gate and globe stop check valves were installed on the USS Tuscaloosa during some undefined period and that Mr. Wineland was exposed to significant levels of asbestos dust while working in the engine room of that vessel, the plaintiffs have not produced evidence from which a reasonable jury could conclude that he suffered a substantial exposure to asbestos dust from Powell products. Absent evidence regarding where the Powell valves were installed on the USS Tuscaloosa and whether any of the potentially asbestos-containing valves were repaired or otherwise disturbed during Mr. Wineland’s service on the vessel, it is impossible to draw any conclusions regarding whether Mr. Wineland was exposed to asbestos from Powell products, much less the amount or duration of the such exposure.
Consequently, Powell’s motion for summary judgment was granted.