U.S. District Court Dismisses Asbestos Claim Because of the “Bare Metal” Defense

In a U.S. District Court in South Carolina, a federal judge granted summary judgment in favor of the defendant Crane Co. in an asbestos claim. The family of Thomas C. Dandridge, now deceased, brought a claim against Crane for negligence, negligent failure to warn, breach of implied warranty of merchantability, strict tort liability, fraud, fraudulent misrepresentation, breach of post-sale duty to warn, wrongful death and loss of consortium.

In the years 1965 to 1976, Dandridge worked as a pipefitter at Coppersmith at the Charleston, S.C., Naval Shipyard where he was exposed to asbestos while working with and around various asbestos-containing products that included products used in valves manufactured and sold by Crane.

In the Estate of Dandridge lawsuit, it was alleged that Dandridge was exposed to asbestos contained in flange gaskets used to link Crane valves to pipelines.

In the court’s decision, it stated that the fundamental rule is that under any theory of a product liability, the plaintiff must establish causation with respect to each defendant manufacturer. To establish causation under maritime law, a plaintiff must show (1) the plaintiff was exposed to the defendant’s product; and (2) the product was a substantial factor in causing the plaintiff’s injury.

Under the “bare metal” defense, a manufacturer is not liable for asbestos containing components and replacement parts it did not manufacturer or distribute. The plaintiff did not allege that Crane made the flange gaskets that Dandridge came in contact with while working at the shipyard. The court stated this alone would appear to warrant summary judgment under the bare metal defense.

In the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago, the case of Quirin v. Lorillard Tobacco, Co., 17 F.Supp.3d 760 (N.D. Ill. 2014), the court found that a manufacturer’s duty to warn of risks relating to asbestos-containing materials arose where: (1) the manufacturer designed its products to be used with asbestos-containing materials and actually incorporated asbestos-containing materials into the products it sold; (2) the manufacturer’s product needed asbestos-containing components to function properly when used in the manner intended by the purchaser; and (3) the manufacturer provided specifications for such use.

The federal court in South Carolina applied the Quirin’s underlying rationale that a duty to warn arises when a defendant manufacturer’s conduct makes the plaintiff’s asbestos exposure “inevitable,” not simply foreseeable.

In this case, the court held that the plaintiff failed to present evidence that Crane’s manufacture and distribution of its valves made it inevitable that Dandridge would encounter asbestos-containing materials, as there was no evidence Crane actually incorporated asbestos-containing materials into the products it sold. That omission was fatal to plaintiff’s complaint and thus led to the court’s entry of a summary judgment in favor of Crane.

The South Carolina federal court believed the weight of authority in favor of the bare metal defense, and the rationale underlying the Quirin decision required it to apply Quirin narrowly. Thus even under Quirin, the court could not find Crane owed Dandridge any duty to warn unless it could find that Crane somehow “incorporated” asbestos-containing flange gaskets into its valves. The South Carolina court also found that the other arguments made by Dandridge as to old advertisements, testimony and documentation were insufficient that Crane “actually incorporated” asbestos-containing gaskets into the valves it manufactured and sold. Accordingly, the South Carolina summary judgment order was affirmed.

Dandridge v. Crane Co., No. 2:12-cv-00484-DCN (D.S.C. Jan. 27, 2016).

Kreisman Law Offices has been handling worker injury cases, asbestos and mesothelioma cases, diesel fume injury cases and catastrophic injury cases for individuals and families who have been injured or killed by the negligence of another for more than 40 years, in and around Chicago, Cook County and its surrounding areas, including Chicago (Albany Park, Andersonville, Jefferson Park, Hyde Park, Jackson Park, Greek Town, Gold Coast, Edgewater, Edgebrook, Diversey Harbor, Cathedral District, Canaryville, Buena Park, North Center, Chinatown, Rogers Park, Roscoe Village, South Loop, South Shore, Wrigleyville, University of Chicago, Ravenswood Manor), Summit, Justice, Darien, Oakbrook and Elmhurst, Ill.

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