By John W. Scanlan, J.D.
Asbestos-related negligence, warranty, and strict liability claims brought by the family of a deceased former U.S. Navy machinist mate against Electric Boat Corporation and General Dynamics Corporation may proceed to trial, a federal court in California ruled in denying summary judgment to the manufacturers. The companies had not shown that they were immune from liability under the sophisticated user and government contractor defenses or that their asbestos-containing products were not involved in his illness (Lund v. Crane Co., May 10, 2016, Young, W.).
Product/strict liability. The defendants may be liable on the strict liability claim with respect to products other than the ships. The family did not challenge the defendants’ assertion that a Navy ship is not a “product” for purposes of products liability law. Instead, they argued that their allegations were aimed at more than just the ships, and the defendants did not show the absence of material fact as to the involvement of asbestos-containing products other than the ships themselves.
Sophisticated user defense. The defendants may be liable for the machinist’s injuries despite their assertion of the sophisticated user defense because they were required to show that the machinist, not the Navy, was a sophisticated user. The defendants had offered evidence only of the Navy’s “state-of-the-art knowledge,” but did not offer any evidence that they reasonably believed that the Navy would warn its users, that the users knew or should have known of the dangers given their experience or training, or that the dangers were so apparent to the Navy that it would be expected to protect its users. As a result, it had not been shown that the machinist knew or should have known of the dangers posed by their products.
Government contractor defense. The defendants were not protected from liability by the government contractor defense because they had not shown that the government had “approved reasonably precise specifications.” Although they argued that they had built the ships to specifications provided by the Navy and that the Navy had accepted them as being built in accordance with the specifications, they had not shown a “continuous exchange” and a back and forth dialogue between them and the government in order to satisfy this element of the defense.
The case is No. 2:13-cv-02776-WGY.
Attorneys: Benno B. Ashrafi (Weitz and Luxenberg PC) for Victoria Lund. James P. Cunningham (Tucker Ellis LLP) for Blackmer Pump Co. Holly Acevedo (Foley and Mansfield PLLP) for BW IP Inc. Charles S. Park (Hugo Parker, LLP) and Jeffrey P. Wilson (Jackson Jenkins Renstrom LLP) for Electric Boat Corp.
Companies: Blackmer Pump Co.; BW IP Inc.; Electric Boat Corp.
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