• Bare Metal Defense Applied Under Maritime Law in Eastern District of PA
  • June 9, 2016 | Author: Timothy D. Rau
  • Law Firm: Marshall Dennehey Warner Coleman & Goggin, P.C. - Philadelphia Office
  • Judge Eduardo Robreno issued an opinion in DeVries v. General Electric Co., 5:13-00474 (E. D. Pa. May 18, 2016), clarifying the basis for his decision granting summary judgment to several defendants by ruling that the bare metal defense applied in asbestos cases to both theories of negligence and strict product liability.

    In the underlying case, the plaintiffs alleged Mr. DeVries was injured as a result of exposure to asbestos while serving in the U.S. Navy from 1957-1962. Each of the remaining defendants argued that summary judgment was appropriate because they did not sell or manufacture the asbestos-containing parts in their equipment that were alleged to have caused Mr. DeVries' disease. Judge Robreno ruled that each of the remaining defendants was entitled to summary judgment based on the "bare metal defense."

    After an appeal to the Third Circuit seeking a distinction between negligence and strict liability theories in applying the "bare metal defense," the appellate court remanded the case to Judge Robreno, seeking clarification as to whether his ruling was on one or both theories of liability.

    In citing Conner v. Alfa Laval, Inc., 842 F.Supp. 791 (E.D. Pa. 2012) and Lindstrom v. A-C Product Liability Trust, 424 F.3d 488 (6th Cir. 2005), Judge Robreno wrote that the "bare metal defense" had been applied in maritime cases by the 6th Circuit Court of Appeals and adopted in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. However, he noted that the issue had never been decided by the Third Circuit.

    In DeVries, the plaintiffs argued that the defendants could still be liable in negligence for failure to warn that asbestos components may have been used in the defendants' equipment. Judge Robreno recently carved out such an exception to the "bare metal defense" under Pennsylvania law in Schwartz v. Abex Corp., 106 F.Supp. 3d 626 (2015).

    Judge Robreno stated that maritime law's definition of "product" "renders the defense equally and indistinguishably applicable to both types of claims." DeVries, pg. 17. Since there was no evidence of exposure to asbestos from a given defendant's products, the "bare metal defense" was applied uniformly to all claims against the defendants.

    The case will now be considered by the Third Circuit after considering Judge Robreno's supplemental opinion.