Federal District Court in South Carolina Denies Summary Judgment in Mesothelioma Case Filed by Former Navy Officer

Mesothelioma is a type of cancer that is caused by exposure to asbestos. Generally speaking, the more a person is exposed to asbestos, the greater his or her risk of developing the disease will be. In most cases, it takes several years (sometimes even decades) after the initial exposure for the disease to manifest itself.

Although there is treatment available for mesothelioma, the majority of patients who are diagnosed with the disease will eventually die from it. Symptoms of mesothelioma typically include pain in the chest wall, shortness of breath, fluid around the lungs, fatigue, wheezing, or blood in the sputum.

Facts of the Case

In a recent case, the plaintiff was a man who worked as a machinist mate and commissioned officer in the U.S. Navy from 1965 to 1989. He filed a product liability lawsuit against several defendants in the Court of Common Pleas of Richland County, South Carolina, in April 2015, alleging that his exposure to asbestos during his naval career had caused him to develop mesothelioma. In his lawsuit, the plaintiff alleged claims for negligence, gross negligence, negligence per se, conscious pain and suffering, and punitive damages; the plaintiff’s wife joined in the case to assert a claim for loss of consortium.

The defendants removed the action to the United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division, in May 2015. In March 2016, one of the defendants filed a motion for summary judgment.

The District Court’s Decision

The federal district court denied the motion. First, the court noted that summary judgment is only appropriate in cases in which there is no genuine dispute as to any material fact. At the summary judgment stage of a lawsuit, the court’s job is not to weigh the evidence or to determine its truthfulness but instead merely to determine whether there is actually an issue that should be determined at trial; if there is no such issue, the moving party is entitled to judgment as a matter of law.

The court went on to determine that the case was to be decided under maritime law, inasmuch as the court had admiralty jurisdiction over the matter, supplemented by state law if necessary. Although the defendant claimed that it was entitled to the “bare metal defense” on the basis that the plaintiff had provided no evidence that he was ever exposed to an asbestos-containing product that the defendant manufactured or distributed, the court held that the plaintiffs’ failure-to-warn claims against the defendant were not foreclosed by the bare metal defense. In so holding, the court determined that such an approach was in line with existing case law, was consistent with state law, and was favored by the relevant policy considerations.

As to the question of which evidence would be required in order for the plaintiffs to prevail, the court held that the plaintiffs must show that the defendant actually incorporated asbestos-containing components into its original product and that the defendant either “specified” the use of such components or such components were “essential to the proper functioning” of the defendant’s product. The court further opined that the plaintiffs had provided evidence as to the defendant’s incorporation of asbestos-containing components into valves used on the ships upon which the plaintiff served, as well as evidence that the defendant “specified” the use of such components.

With regard to the defendant’s argument that the plaintiffs had failed to show that the exposure to the components in question was a substantial factor in the plaintiff’s injury, the court found that the best course of action was for the parties to further brief this issue, inasmuch as it was raised for the first time in the defendant’s reply brief.

To Talk to a South Carolina Mesothelioma Lawyer

If you or someone in your family is suffering from mesothelioma, the time for filing a claim against the responsible party is limited. The Patrick E. Knie Law Offices can help you investigate your or your loved one’s case and assist you as you pursue monetary compensation for medical expenses, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages. To schedule an appointment with an experienced South Carolina mesothelioma lawyer, call us at (864) 582-5118. We have offices in both Spartanburg and Greenville, and we serve clients throughout the state.

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