Various Manufacturers Denied Summary Judgment on Causation and Product Identification Grounds

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Supreme Court of New York, Nassau County, November 17, 2021

In this asbestos action, plaintiff Frank Randazzo alleged exposure to asbestos from the following: (1) personally working on Rockwell brakes, (2) breathing in dust on his father’s clothing when his father worked with Cleaver-Brooks boilers and burners, and (3) from Perkins gaskets. Each of the aforementioned defendants moved for summary judgment, alleging that Randazzo could not have been exposed to their products.

To establish causation, a plaintiff must establish that a toxin is capable of causing the illness in which the plaintiff suffers, and that the plaintiff was exposed to enough of the toxin to cause the illness. In support of its motion for summary judgment, ArvinMentor, successor in interest to Rockwell, provided an affidavit from Bruce Ketcham, a former Rockwell manager, affirming that Rockwell did not manufacture brakes for the types of vehicles that Randazzo worked on.  Ketcham further stated that his affidavit is based upon both his personal knowledge and from his review of corporate records. The court denied ArvinMentor’s motion, stating that Ketcham did not provide enough detail with regards to the descriptions provided in the affirmation, or with regards to the source of his information.

Similarly, Cleaver-Brooks provided an affidavit from Jon Tornetta, Manager of Technical Services for Cleaver-Brooks. Tornetta stated that he has reviewed thousands of pages of documents relating to boilers manufactured by Cleaver-Brooks, and has spoken to individuals employed by Cleaver-Brooks. Based on this knowledge, Tornetta affirmed that Cleaver-Brooks did not sell cast iron boilers during the time period stated in the complaint. The court denied Cleaver-Brooks motion, stating that Tornetta failed to explain what kind of documents he reviewed or to whom he spoke with about the boilers.

Finally, Perkins provided an affidavit from Michael E. Reinhart, an individual with more than 40 years of experience working for “large” and “recognizable” manufacturers and distributors of industrial engines. Reinhart affirmed that Perkins did not sell gaskets for gasoline engines, which were the types of engines that Randazzo allegedly worked on. The court cited testimony provided by Randazzo, stating that he often had to cut holes in the Perkins gaskets to make them fit in his engines. Accordingly, the court concluded that Reinhart did not explain whether the Perkins gaskets could be modified to be used with gasoline engines. Importantly, Perkins also asserted that plaintiffs could not establish causation by challenging the expert report of the plaintiff’s expert, Dr. Brent C. Staggs. With regard to this argument, the court noted that Perkins failed to submit their own expert report and, accordingly, failed to establish that a question of fact with regards to the report failed to exist. For these reasons, summary judgment was denied.

Read the full decision here.