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

United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania, June 17, 2021

Plaintiff sued Defendant Yuba Heat Transfer, LLC and various manufacturers and distributors alleging that decedent developed mesothelioma from exposures to Defendant Yuba’s asbestos-containing products. Plaintiff alleged decedent was exposed to asbestos from Yuba’s feedwater heaters while working at the Niagara Mohawk Power Station. 

Prior to decedent’s passing, he sat for a deposition during which he did not identify Yuba by name or feedwater heaters.  Defendant Yuba filed a motion for summary judgment arguing plaintiff had failed to properly identify Yuba’s product as a cause of decedent’s disease and death. 

In its motion, Defendant Yuba argued it is 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 Yuba, 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 Yuba on a regular, frequent, or proximate basis.

The court analyzed the issues 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 decedent never mentioned water heaters and never named Defendant Yuba during decedent’s deposition.  Nor had plaintiff supplied testimony or any other evidence to suggest that Yuba feedwater heaters were installed, removed, repaired, or replaced in a way that caused asbestos fibers to be released in the presence of decedent.  The court also noted decedent testified that he had few opportunities for exposure to asbestos-containing gaskets because of the new construction at the Power Station. 

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