The Defense Wins - DRI Issue

Posted on Wednesday, 04 April 2012

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Ed HugoOn February 1, 2012, Judge Eduardo C. Robreno of the United States District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania issued an opinion and order granting defendant Foster Wheeler Energy Corporation’s motions for summary judgment in two cases Stone v. Alfa Laval, et al., EDPA Civil Action No. 2:09-CV-91848 ER, and Prange v. Alfa Laval, et al., EDPA Civil Action No. 2:09-CV-93726-ER. In so doing, Judge Robreno, for the first time in federal Asbestos MDL litigation, adopted the "component parts" defense (also known as the "bare-metal" doctrine) to claims asserted against product manufacturers "for injuries caused by asbestos products, such as insulation, gaskets, and packing, that were incorporated into their products or used as replacement parts, but which they did not manufacture or distribute." DRI member Edward R. Hugo and Charles S. Park of Hugo Parker, LLP in San Francisco, along with Dennis Vega and Afigo Okpewho from Sedgwick, LLP, in New Jersey represented Foster Wheeler.

The cases affected by Judge Robreno’s ruling -Stone and Prange- were both wrongful death cases, in which decedents alleged that they were exposed to asbestos found in component parts found in equipment manufactured by Foster Wheeler for use in United States Navy ships pursuant to government contracts and specifications. Foster Wheeler removed the cases, which were initially filed in San Diego Superior Court and Los Angeles Superior Court, to the Southern District and Central District federal courts in 2009. Pursuant to transfer orders issued by the JPML, both cases were transferred to the Asbestos MDL at the end of 2009. After extensive discovery, Foster Wheeler filed motions for summary judgment in both cases, based on a lack of evidence of product identification, and on the "government contractor" and "sophisticated user" defenses; the Prange MSJ was filed on October 25, 2010, and the Stone motion was filed on November 5, 2010.

Although Foster Wheeler’s summary judgment motions were originally denied with regard to product identification and causation in the spring of 2010, the court entertained a series of supplemental briefs filed by Foster Wheeler in both cases, advocating the application of federal maritime law and the "component part/bare metal" defense. On January 27, 2012, Foster Wheeler filed briefs in Stone and Prange which were the first briefs to address and discuss the California Supreme Court’s O’Neil v. Crane Co., S177401, 2012 WL 88533 (Cal. Jan. 12, 2012) opinion. Five days later, Judge Robreno issued his opinion, which relied heavily on O’Neil in concluding that Foster Wheeler was entitled to summary judgment in both cases.

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