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Asbestos-Superior Court Denies Motion for Reconsideration Based on "Bare Metal" Defense

In the latest ruling in a fiercely-litigated asbestos case, the Superior Court has issued a decision denying Crane Co.'s motion for reconsideration of its summary judgment motion based on its "bare metal" defense. The "bare metal" defense is one in which the defendant argues that although plaintiff worked with its products, it did not make the asbestos-containing components of that product to which plaintiff was exposed and, accordingly, it is not liable for that exposure.

In this case, the decedent served in the U.S. Navy during the 1960s. There is evidence that he routinely replaced asbestos-containing packing and gaskets in steam valves made by Crane Co. Crane argues that there is insufficient evidence that it made the particular replacement packing and gaskets to which the decedent was exposed and that it should not be liable for the decedent's exposure to packing and gaskets made by other manufacturers.

First, the Court finds that there is evidence that Crane sold its products with asbestos components, that it made asbestos-containing replacement parts for its products, that it sold the replacement parts to the Navy and that it recommended the use of asbestos-containing replacement parts. Accordingly, the Court holds there is sufficient evidence from which the jury could reasonably infer that plaintiff was exposed to Crane Co. asbestos-containing replacement parts.

However, the Court goes to consider whether Crane Co. could be liable even if it did not make the replacement parts to which plaintiff was exposed and concludes, based on the facts of this case, that it could be liable. "[T]he pivotal issue under Rhode Island law is whether Crane intended the asbestos in its valves to be replaced with new asbestos and whether Crane had 'reason to anticipate that danger may result from [that] particular use.'" Since Crane "actively encouraged its customers to replace the original asbestos with more asbestos" it could be liable for failure to warn of the dangers of asbestos.

The Court says contrary decisions from other jurisdictions are either distinguishable on the facts, particularly in the lack of evidence that the manufacturer encouraged the use of asbestos-containing replacement parts.

Asbestos defendants in Rhode Island can anticipate that this decision will become the local plaintiffs' "blueprint" for how to avoid "bare metal" arguments. Hopefully, defendants can distinguish it on the grounds that they did not supply their products with asbestos components or they did not encourage the use of asbestos replacement parts.

Sweredoski v. Alfa Laval, Inc., P.C. 2011-1544, slip op., (R.I.Super. Oct. 21, 2013).

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