SAVANNAH, Ga. (Legal Newsline) - A Georgia judge has granted summary judgment for Crane Co. in an asbestos lawsuit, concluding that general knowledge, or speculator assumptions, is insufficient to defeat the defendant's motion.
Judge Michael L. Karpf delivered the July 21 decision in the Superior Court of Chatham County.
Crane, a valve manufacturer, sought summary judgment based on the decedent's claims that he was exposed to asbestos dust while working in the vicinity of others who were performing valve work with asbestos-containing component parts.
Crane's request was based on the bare metal defense, alleging the plaintiff failed to provide evidence that the defendant manufactured, distributed or sold the products allegedly causing his asbestos exposure.
"Bare metal" products relate to those that contain or were encapsulated in asbestos-containing products made by a third party. The arguments raised from this type of exposure refer to it as the "bare metal defense" in litigation.
Betty Jo Reed, individually, and Angela R. Major filed the lawsuit on behalf of decedent Joseph William Reed, who died after developing mesothelioma.
They originally filed the motion against 41 defendants. Only 10 remain and each is seeking summary judgment based upon product identification.
Karpf explained that proof of identification of asbestos-containing products "is generally satisfied through the testimony of the plaintiff and/or co-workers that they recall seeing, using and being exposed to the defendant's product during the identical weeks, months or years that the plaintiff worked with the product."
Previously, Reed testified that he worked at Union Camp in Savannah, Ga., from 1952 until 1992, where he primarily worked as an electrician.
He claimed he never worked with Crane valves specifically but was in the vicinity when others performed work on the equipment.
Reed testified that the work involved asbestos-containing packing, gaskets and insulation on the valves.
Reed admitted that the packing could not have been original because it would not have lasted that long. However, he was unable to provide brand names or manufacturers of the valve component parts.
Reed was adamant that the component parts contained asbestos, but his only supporting knowledge of this allegation was based on what the workers said.
Reed stated, "Everybody that I worked around knew it was asbestos."
However, Karpf remained unconvinced by this explanation.
"General knowledge, standing along, is simply insufficient to defeat a summary judgment motion," he wrote.
While Reed testified that he saw the name Crane at various times on the products, he also claimed each valve was similar and he could not distinguish one valve from another.
Additionally, he could not remember whether he ever saw the word asbestos on the products, but relied only on what others knew or assumed.
In fact, Crane's corporate representative, Anthony Pantaleoni, testified that Crane valves contained both asbestos and non-asbestos component parts.
"It is undisputed that Crane did not manufacture the gaskets, packing or insulation installed in or on its valves," Karpf wrote. "While Crane admits that some of its valves contained gaskets and packing which contained asbestos, others did not."
As a result, Crane asserts the "bare metal defense" in its request for summary judgment.
"Under this defense, a defendant is only liable for products that were originally manufactured, incorporated, and/or sold by the defendant," Karpf explained. "Specifically, a defendant cannot be liable for component parts incorporated into its products by third parties."
In regards to the alleged asbestos-containing insulation, Karpf held that evidence clearly shows Crane did not manufacture or specify the insulation installed on the valve.
In fact, the insulation was manufactured by an unknown third party and installed by the decedent's employer.
Therefore, Karpf concluded that the bare metal defense falls in favor of the defendant here.
"Moreover, plaintiff's belief that it contained asbestos was based upon general knowledge of others at the plant that all insulation contained asbestos," he wrote. "Without more, this evidence is simply not sufficient to defeat defendant's motion for summary judgment as to the insulation used around the valves."
As for the gaskets and packing, Karpf held that the bare metal defense does not apply to the select valves that were manufactured with asbestos-containing component parts within their metal structures.
Therefore, he said the question for the court is whether the evidence is sufficient to raise a genuine issue of material fact as to whether Reed worked in the vicinity of any Crane valves that actually contained asbestos.
Karpf held that Reed's testimony is "speculative at best."
Relying on the assumptions of co-workers is considered general knowledge and is insufficient to defeat summary judgment, he explained.
Furthermore, Reed could not recall seeing any labels specifying that the component parts contained asbestos.
"Although defendant admitted some of its component parts contained asbestos, there is simply no evidence that the gaskets and packing that plaintiff contends he was exposed to actually contained asbestos and were actually those manufactured or supplied by Crane," Karpf wrote. "Based upon the foregoing, the court finds that no genuine issue of material fact exists."
Karpf concluded that summary judgment was proper.
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