United States District Court for the Middle District of Louisiana, October 31, 2022
Plaintiffs brought this wrongful death and survival action on behalf of decedent Kirk Reulet, alleging that Mr. Reulet was exposed to asbestos while working as a tradesman at various marine-economy jobs from 1972 to 2013. Plaintiffs alleged that this exposure led to his mesothelioma diagnosis and eventual death, and sought damages from dozens of defendants, including employers, premise owners, asbestos manufacturers or supplies, and insurers.
Defendants General Electric Company and ViacomCBS Inc. f/k/a Westinghouse Electric Corporation moved for summary judgment, aruging that (1) Plaintiffs could not establish substantial asbestos-exposure from their turbines, and (2) they could not be liable for any such exposure because their turbines “did not come with insulation,” they did not manufacture or distribute asbestos-based insulation, and any asbestos-containing insulation later added to their turbines was applied by other parties.
In order to prevail on summary judgment, Defendants had to show there was no genuine dispute as to any material fact and that they are entitled to judgment as a matter of law. See Fed. R. Civ. P. 56(a). However, no matter the strength of this showing, courts still review all the evidence and make all reasonable inferences in the light most favorable to the non-moving party.
The court noted that order to defeat Defendants’ first argument, “[P]laintiffs need only show that a reasonable jury could conclude that it is more likely than not that [decedent] inhaled…asbestos fibers from [defendants], even if it was only ‘slight exposure.’”Williams v. Boeing Co., 23 F.4th 507, 512 (5th Cir. 2022), citing Held v. Avondale Indus. Inc., 95-1788, p. 5 (La. App. 4 Cir. 4/3/96). The court held that in this case, Plaintiffs “easily clear[ed] this bar.” Certified employment records presented at trial established that Mr. Reulet worked as a shipfitter with witness Dwight Granier. Mr. Granier testified he and decedent regularly and frequently worked in close proximity to Defendants’ turbines. Crucially, they would be in close proximity during the installation of insulation on defendants’ turbines. Additional co-workers reportedly corroborated Mr. Granier’s testimony. Consequently, the court held, “[p]lainly, on this record, a dispute exists whether decedent suffered asbestos-exposure from [Defendants’] turbines.”
Defendants’ second argument was that they could not be held liable because they did not sell their turbines with insulation. Instead, another party would later install any necessary insulation. The court was not persuaded. The court found that there were two distinct asbestos-containing products associated with Defendants’ turbines: (1) asbestos-containing gaskets used to connect the turbines; and (2) asbestos-based insulation used to insulate the turbines. Because Defendants’ corporate representatives testified that the turbine parts contained asbestos, Defendants could not prevail on summary judgment on this theory. “Accordingly, a material dispute exist[ed] as to whether [Defendants] supplied an unreasonably dangerous product per se, and as to whether [Defendants] failed to issue adequate warnings regarding the produce.” Moreover, the court found that Defendants could not defeat Plaintiffs’ insulation claims at summary judgment, even if they had only delivered “bare-metal” turbines to Mr. Reulet’s employer, noting that the United States Supreme Court has ruled, “[a] manufacturer does have a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part and the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses.” Air & Liquid Sys. Corp. v. DeVries, 139 S. Ct. 986, 993-94 (2019) (emphasis in original). Defendants’ corporate representatives testified that Defendants knew the turbines they sold to Mr. Reulet’s employer required asbestos-based insulation, yet all still failed to provide any warnings of the dangers associated with same. As such, a material dispute regarding whether Defendants failed to provide adequate warnings of such danger existed as well. The court concluded “[i]n sum, there is plainly enough evidence to create a contest regarding whether decedent inhaled asbestos fibers from the [Defendants’] products and, further, whether the [Defendants] may be liable under a products liability theory.” Accordingly, the court denied Defendants’ motions for summary judgment.
Read the full decision here