Valve Manufacturer’s Summary Judgment Denied in Failure to Warn Case Despite Bare Metal Defense U.S. District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, February 13, 2017
The plaintiffs brought this action against Crane Co. alleging James Chesher developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos containing packing and gaskets found inside Crane Co. valves while he served in the United States Navy from 1965-1989.
The court began its discussion by stating the standard for summary judgment. Summary judgment is appropriate when the “pleadings, the discovery and disclosure materials on file, and any affidavits show that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.” It was undisputed that maritime law applied. Prior to applying the law to the facts, the court gave a lengthy analysis on competing state laws regarding the bare metal defense which Crane had asserted in the instant case. In the landmark Lindstrom decision, the court stated that the bare metal defense was available because “plaintiffs had not shown that the defendants actually manufactured the asbestos-containing material that caused their injuries.” Others cases followed supporting the Lindstrom approach like Conner. In Conner, the court denied the plaintiffs’ claims in a failure to warn case citing Lindstrom. However, other jurisdictions took the approach found in the Quirin case. In Quirin, the court refused to apply Lindstrom finding that it did not discuss failure to warn cases. Other courts adopted middle of the road theories which analyzed factors including whether the manufacturer incorporated asbestos-containing products into its product and whether it was foreseeable that asbestos-containing products would be used in its products. The court acknowledged that a split had developed between the restrictive Conner approach and the Quirin style cases with respect to the issue of failure to warn. In Lindstrom, the decision was clear as to negligence and strict liability but was ambiguous as to failure to warn cases. Some pro Lindstrom courts recognized that a manufacturer’s failure to warn could cause a plaintiff to be injured. This troubled the court. Public policy also had influenced the application of Lindstrom. The court concluded that Lindstrom does not close the door for the Quirin application in failure to warn cases. The court honed in on the fact that a defendant cannot argue it lacked control over the “risks associated” with the components since it had was in a position to test the product from the beginning.
The court held that failure to warn cases are not closed by the bare metal defense. Here, the court also held that in a failure to warn case a plaintiff must demonstrate that 1) the defendant actually incorporated asbestos-containing components into its original product 2) the defendant specified the use of asbestos containing replacement components or that such components were essential to the proper functioning of the defendant’s product. Here, Crane, by admission, stated that it enclosed “asbestos-containing gaskets, packing or discs” for use in certain valves. Accordingly, there was a reasonable inference that those valves were on the ships with Mr. Chesher. Further, evidence of drawings suggested that Crane specified the use of asbestos in the components. Crane argued that the Navy specified what Crane had to provide. However, Plaintiff’s expert testified that the drawings illustrated Crane’s specifications. Hence, the material fact in dispute according to the court. Further, Crane argued that plaintiff had not met his burden of substantial factor causation (SFC). The court noted that the SFC argument was not raised until Crane filed its reply to plaintiff’s opposition. Secondly, the SFC argument was found by the court to be inadequate because Crane’s authority in support had rejected the every exposure theory. The SFC argument did not address the current experts and their opinions with respect to causation. Summary judgment was therefore denied.