Court Grants Valve Defendant’s MSJ Finding Plaintiff Failed to Proffer Sufficient Exposure Evidence

U.S. District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, June 17, 2021

Plaintiff sued Defendant Honeywell Inc. and various manufacturers and distributors alleging that decedent developed mesothelioma from exposures to Defendant Honeywell’s asbestos-containing products. Plaintiff alleged decedent was exposed to asbestos from Honeywell’s controls, valves, and instruments while working at the SM-1 facility in Virginia and PM-1 facility in Wyoming.

Prior to decedent’s passing, he sat for a deposition during which he recalled Honeywell controls and equipment at the SM-1 and PM-1 facility. Defendant Honeywell filed a motion for summary judgment arguing plaintiff had failed to properly identify Honeywell’s products as a cause of decedent’s disease and death.

In its motion, Defendant Honeywell argued it was not liable for injuries caused by asbestos products for two reasons: 1) plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence to satisfy her burden of showing that decedent was exposed to asbestos fibers of any product manufactured, distributed, or supplied by Honeywell, and 2) plaintiff failed to produce sufficient evidence to satisfy her burden of showing that decedent was exposed to asbestos fibers of any product manufactured, distributed or supplied by Honeywell on a regular, frequent, or proximate basis.

After conducting a conflict of laws analysis, the Court determined it would apply Virginia law in deciding Honeywell’s motion for summary judgment for the alleged exposure to Honeywell products at the SM-1 facility in Virginia. Pennsylvania law would apply to the claims arising out of the alleged exposures to asbestos in Wyoming.

The Court analyzed the claims related to the alleged exposure in Wyoming under Pennsylvania law. Before imposing liability on a defendant in a product liability action, Pennsylvania law requires a plaintiff to show not only that the decedent was exposed to a defective product manufactured or sold by the defendant but that the decedent’s exposure was a substantial factor in causing the injury. The plaintiff must prove decedent was exposed to asbestos from a defendant’s product with sufficient frequency, regularity, and proximity so that a jury could make the necessary inference of an adequate causal connection between that product and the asserted injury.

In its analysis, the Court determined that during his deposition, decedent stated he never worked on the Honeywell controls at the PM-1 facility. Nor did he know if the controls present at the facility contained asbestos. He did not recall seeing Honeywell valves at that facility. The Court found plaintiff’s evidence lacked any specificity about decedent’s encounters with Honeywell products and whether those Honeywell products contained asbestos.

When analyzing the claims under Virginia law, the Court noted a plaintiff must prove that a defendant’s actions were both the actual and proximate cause of the alleged injuries, under traditional tort liability principles. Virginia has not adopted the “frequency, regularity, and proximity” standard.

The Court noted decedent had never performed any maintenance on any Honeywell instrumentation. Decedent did recall Honeywell recorders at the facility, but decedent did not perform work on any of them. Nor did decedent know the composition of the dust that came off the recorders during the cleaning process. As such, the court determined plaintiff had failed to produce evidence decedent worked with or around, was otherwise exposed to, or inhaled asbestos fibers released from an asbestos-containing product of Honeywell at the SM-1 facility. Furthermore, plaintiff failed to show that any Honeywell products were a substantial cause of decedent’s mesothelioma.

Based on the above, the court found plaintiff failed to proffer enough evidence to show decedent was exposed to any asbestos from a Honeywell product and to show that asbestos from a Honeywell product was a factor in decedent’s mesothelioma under Virginia or Pennsylvania law. As such, the Court granted Defendant Honeywell’s motion for summary judgment.