ON APPEAL FROM THE UNITED STATES DISTRICT COURT FOR THE EASTERN DISTRICT OF PENNSYLVANIA, (D.C. Civil No. 82-1241)
Before: GIBBONS, BECKER, and STAPLETON, Circuit Judges
In this diversity case two asbestos suppliers appeal from default judgments entered against them after they declined to defend a tort action brought by an individual who alleged that he had contracted asbestosis by virtue of contact with asbestos supplied by them. We affirm.
The appellants are Bell Asbestos Mines, Ltd. (Bell) and Asbestos Corporation, Ltd. (ACL), corporations that supply raw asbestos to asbestos processors. The appellee is George Farzetta. From August 1950 until January 1982 Farzetta worked in an asbestos factory located in Ambler, Pennsylvania that processed asbestos fiber supplied by Bell and ACL. In January 1982 he was diagnosed as having asbestosis.
Sometime early in 1982 Farzetta filed a complaint in the Court of Common Pleas of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, naming as defendants Bell, ACL, and a third corporation that supplied asbestos fiber to the plant at which Farzetta had worked, Brinco Mining Company, Ltd. (Brinco). After removing the case to the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, all three defendants filed answers in which east asserted that Farzetta was barred from recovering because he had assumed the risk of exposure to the asbestos.
The case went to trial in April 1985. Citing financial difficulties, Bell and ACL chose not to defend, leaving Brinco as the only participating defendant. Farzetta then moved under Rule 55 of the Federal Rules of of Civil Procedure for default judgments against Bell and ACL. In defense they argued that default judgments would be improper because they had filed answers, actions they claimed required Farzetta to prove his case, regardless of whether they defended. The district court deferred decision on Farzetta's motion.
Farzetta then presented his case, proceeding upon a theory of strict liability and contending that the defendants had failed to place adequate warning labels on the packages of raw asbestos they sold to his employer. Brinco adduced evidence bearing on its assumption-of-risk defense.
By way of special interrogatories the jury found that the asbestos supplied by all three defendants was defective because of the absence of proper warnings and further found that those defects were substantial causal factors in physical injuries sustained by Farzetta. However, the jury then responded "yes" to the following question: "Has the defendant Brinco Mining, Ltd., proved by a preponderance of the evidence that the plaintiff [assumed the risk]?" Interrogatories to the Jury at 3, reprinted in Joint Appendix at 16.
At this point the jury returned to the courtroom, and the district court entered judgment in favor of Brinco. It then addressed the outstanding motion for the default judgments. Bell and ACL argued that the jury's finding that Farzetta had assumed the risk vis-a-vis Brinco compelled the entry of judgments in their favor. Although the court rejected this argument, it did not grant Farzetta's motion for the default judgments; rather it sent the jury back to asses damages against Bell and ACL. While the jury was deliberating on this issue, the district court returned to the default motion and granted it from the bench. See Trial Transcript (May 1, 1985), reprinted in Joint Appendix at 95-96.*fn1
Shortly thereafter both Bell and ACL filed motions requesting the district court to "amend the judgment in accordance with the jury verdict." The district court denied both motions, see Farzetta v. Bell Asbestos, Ltd., Civil Action No. 82-1241 (E.D. Pa. Oct. 4, 1985) (Bell order); Farzetta v. Bell Asbestos, Ltd., Civil ...