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In re Asbestos Litigation

United States District Court, D. Delaware

August 30, 2017

IN RE ASBESTOS LITIGATION
v.
ALFA LAVAL, INC., et al. Defendants. ICOM HENRY EVANS, and JOHANNA ELAINE EVANS, Plaintiffs,

          REPORT AND RECOMMENDATION

          SHERRY R. FALLON, UNITED STATES MAGISTRATE JUDGE

         I. INTRODUCTION

         Presently before the court, in this asbestos-related personal injury action, is the motion for partial summary judgment as to the Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim filed by defendant John Crane Inc. ("John Crane"). (D.I. 143) For the reasons set forth below, the court recommends denying John Crane's motion for partial summary judgment.

         II. BACKGROUND

         A. Procedural History

         Icom Henry Evans and Johanna Elaine Evans ("Plaintiffs") filed this asbestos related personal injury action in the Delaware Superior Court against multiple defendants on June 11, 2015, asserting injuries arising from Mr. Evans' alleged harmful exposure to asbestos. (D.I. 1 at ¶ 1) Defendant Foster Wheeler removed the action to this court on August 4, 2015. (D.I. 1) On September 9, 2016, the parties stipulated that maritime law applies to all substantive claims.[1](D.I. 136) On October 7, 2016, John Crane filed a motion for partial summary judgment requesting dismissal of Plaintiffs' claims for punitive damages as a matter of law. (D.I. 143) Plaintiffs oppose the motion. (D.I. 175)

         The Plaintiff, Icom Evans ("Mr. Evans"), developed mesothelioma which he claims resulted from his exposure to asbestos containing gaskets manufactured by John Crane. (D.I. 175) Mr. Evans removed and replaced gaskets during his naval service as a boiler tender and fireman on the USS Kearsarge and the USS Bole between 1957 and 1968. (Id.) John Crane contends that the relevant time period for purposes of Plaintiffs' punitive damages claim is confined to the time frame of Mr. Evans' ship-board service. (D.I. 181)

         B. Facts

         John Crane admits to having knowledge of the hazards of asbestos by 1970. (D.I. 181 at 4) However, the parties dispute whether John Crane had knowledge of the hazards of asbestos before 1970. (D.I. 175, 181) The parties further dispute whether John Crane's knowledge after 1970 is relevant to consideration of the punitive damages issue. (Id.)

         In 1922, John Crane's President, Frank R. Payne, joined the American Society of Mechanical Engineers ("ASME"). (D.I. 175 at 3) In 1933, a journal entitled "Mechanical Engineering, " which is published by ASME, featured an article describing the hazards of asbestos. (Id. at 3-4) A similar article was published in "Mechanical Engineering" in 1935. (Id. at 4) In 1936, the Illinois Labor Standards Act listed asbestos as an occupational injury compensable under the state's workers' compensation system.[2] (D.I. 175, Ex. 5 at 99:23-100:1) In 1943, the Illinois Department of Labor published an article titled, "Wartime Operations Emphasize Industrial Hygiene Problems of Asbestos Industry." (D.I. 175, Ex. 10) In 1950, "Mechanical Engineering" published an article linking asbestos exposure to forms of cancer. (D.I. 175, Ex. 1 at 112:14-20) In 1964, the New York Academy of Sciences published a book listing products that could expose workers to asbestos. (D.I. 175, Ex. 3 at 100:2-21) In 1966, articles were published in the Wall Street Journal and the Chicago Tribune discussing the health hazards linked to asbestos. (D.I. 175, Ex. 1 at 116:22-118:8; Ex. 2 at 105:23-107:20)

         Years subsequent to the publication of the foregoing articles, depositions of John Crane's corporate representatives, George Springs and George McKillop, were taken in connection with then pending asbestos litigation in 2007, 2010, and 2015, respectively. (D.I. 175) In summary, each corporate representative testified regarding the time frame of John Crane's knowledge of the hazards of asbestos. In their brief, Plaintiffs point to internal inconsistencies in Mr. Springs' testimony. (D.I. 175) For example, Mr. Springs testified that in 1943 John Crane took steps to protect employees from "raw" asbestos it used in the manufacturing process, but Mr. Springs later attempted to qualify his statement, explaining his testimony addressed whether John Crane had ventilation in its manufacturing plant. (D.I. 175, Ex. 11 at 24:6-13; 104:11-105:5) Additionally, Mr. Springs testified that he would expect John Crane to be aware of Illinois workers' compensation legislation regarding the hazards of asbestos, and that he knew Illinois had labeled asbestosis as an occupational injury by 1936. (D.I. 175, Ex. 2 at 95:16-20; Ex. 5 at 99:23-100:1) However, John Crane highlights that Mr. Springs' statement was made in the present tense, and did not address what John Crane was aware of in 1936. (D.I. 181 at 2)

         III. LEGAL STANDARDS

         A. Summary Judgment

         "The court shall grant summary judgment if the movant shows that there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact and the movant is entitled to judgment as a matter of law." Fed.R.Civ.P. 56(a). Material facts are those that could affect the outcome of the proceeding, and "a dispute about a material fact is 'genuine' if the evidence is sufficient to permit a reasonable jury to return a verdict for the nonmoving party." Lamont v. New Jersey, 631 F.3d 177, 181 (3d Cir. 2011) (citing Anderson v. Liberty Lobby Inc., 477 U.S. 242, 248 (1986); Celotex Corp. v. Catrett,477 U.S. 317, 322-23 (1986)). Pursuant to Rule 56(c)(1), a party asserting that a fact is genuinely disputed must support its contention either by citing to "particular parts of materials in the record, including depositions, documents, electronically stored information, affidavits or declarations, stipulations (including those made for the purposes of the motion only), admissions, interrogatory answers, or other ...


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