In recent United State history, there has been a wave of asbestos-related legal cases. Asbestos is a material that has mainly been used as a component of insulation in different products. It was discovered, however, that asbestos is extremely dangerous to people's health. As a result, there have been numerous product liability suits filed in regards to this material throughout the U.S., including Pennsylvania.
Many cases are still being filed and pending. For instance, an asbestos-related case is currently pending in the federal court of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania. The plaintiff filed the lawsuit against several shipbuilders and alleges he was exposed to asbestos when the defendants installed insulation while he was serving aboard U.S. naval ships.
The plaintiff filed both strict product liability and negligence claims against the defendants. While the court granted the defendants' motion for summary judgment as to the strict liability claims, the negligence claims will move forward. The court reached this decision by finding that a ship is not a product within the meaning of strict liability law. The defendants can only be held liable under this theory for dangerous products, something that is not an issue in this case. In contrast, the court found that the defendants may still be liable under negligence theories for several failures, including failing to warn of the use of a dangerous material.
When pleading a case involving a dangerous material, it is prudent to not only make product liability claims but also other causes of action like negligence. It may not always be apparent which claims will ultimately succeed, particularly when a defendant decides to file a motion for summary judgment.
A motion for summary judgment tests the legal and factual sufficiency of the case before trial in the hopes that the case can be decided by the judge without need for trial. When the court in this case held the strict liability claim can no longer proceed, this is precisely what happened. The court identified no factual dispute between the parties and found, as a matter of law, the plaintiff could not legally proceed with a strict product liability claim.
Plaintiffs can also file motions for summary judgment. There are other situations where a court may find that it is appropriate to enter judgment in the plaintiff's favor before trial as a matter of law. And sometimes, this may be the easiest way for a plaintiff to win a product liability lawsuit. A products liability attorney can help plaintiffs handle these matters.
Source: Legal Newsline, "Asbestos defendants win product liability claims, still face negligence claims," Heather Isringhausen Gvillo, Feb. 11, 2014.