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Court Invalidates Bare Metal Defense in Asbestos Cases

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit recently made a ruling that has essentially scrapped the so-called “bare metal defense”, an argument which stated that if a manufacturer makes a product without asbestos, and asbestos is later added to it, the manufacturer cannot be held liable for the consequences.

bare metal defenseThis particular decision was made in regard to the case of two U.S. Navy widows whose husbands died of asbestos-caused cancer. Their complaint involved a manufacturer who sold an engine which did not contain an asbestos gasket.

However, the buyer replaced it with an asbestos-containing part, which then resulted in asbestos exposure for the two men.

Therefore, the question that went to the appeals court involved whether or not – at that point – the manufacturer was responsible for the asbestos exposure. In this case, the answer was “yes”.

In a decision that involves a principle known as “first impression”, Third Circuit Judge Thomas I. Vanaskie wrote the following:

“In that void, we survey bedrock principles of maritime law and conclude that they permit a manufacturer of even a bare-metal product to be held liable for asbestos-related injuries when circumstances indicate the injury was a reasonably foreseeable result of the manufacturer’s actions—at least in the context of a negligence claim,” Vanaskie said.

“The district court had instead applied the bright-line rule approach and entered summary judgment against the plaintiffs,” the judge continued. “We will vacate the entry of summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ negligence claims, affirm the entry of summary judgment on the plaintiffs’ product liability claims (which we conclude were abandoned on appeal), and will remand, for further proceedings.”

The attorney for Roberta G. Devries and Shirley McAfee believes the court got it right.

“The court validated maritime law’s ‘special solicitude for the safety and protection of sailors’,” he said. “We look forward to trying these cases in the district court on remand.”

Members of the U.S. Navy and civilian employees of the Navy were – for decades – among those most affected by asbestos-related diseases.

For the past 20 years or so, Navy vets have accounted for approximately one-third of all mesothelioma cases diagnosed annually in the United States.

That’s because Navy ships and shipyards were ripe with asbestos materials and it was almost impossible to avoid inhalation of dangerous fibers.

Asbestos was just about everywhere on military ships of old, including in places where crew members regularly gathered, such as in the mess hall and even in sleeping quarters.

Those who built those Navy ships were especially prone to exposure as their jobs often involved cutting or grinding away at asbestos-containing materials.

Often, they were not provided with any sort of protective gear to prevent inhalation of the toxic dust. As a result, many Navy vets and their families have successfully sued the manufacturers of these dangerous products and suits continue to be filed by these hard-working vets as well as shipyard civilian employees.

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