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General Evidence of Asbestos-Containing Products, Without Proof Linking the Products to Plaintiff’s Work, Held Insufficient to Overcome Summary Judgment

U.S. District Court for the Central District of California, April 9, 2015

In this California federal court case, the plaintiff, Larry Armstrong, claimed exposure to asbestos from working with electrical products of the defendant, Rockwell Automation Inc., during his time as a Navy electrician. Rockwell, the successor to Allen-Bradley Company and Roston Corporation, moved for summary judgment, arguing that the plaintiff could not have been exposed to an asbestos-containing Allen-Bradley product because it was not an authorized provider to the Navy. The court found there was a material question of fact as to whether the plaintiff was exposed to a Rockwell product, based on the plaintiff’s testimony that he worked with Allen-Bradley products and the differing opinions of the parties’ experts as to whether or not there was strict compliance with the Navy’s Qualified Product List. The court also noted that there was evidence in the record that some Allen-Bradley motor controllers included asbestos-containing materials such as arc chutes and shields.

However, the court granted summary judgment, finding there was no evidence the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos from any Rockwell product. As held by the court: “Armstrong testified to inhaling dust when he ‘blew out’ the motor controller and electrical boxes, but only specifically testified to seeing Bakelite ‘turn to dust’ and fall into the box. He did not testify to other components, such as arc chutes and shields, creating dust. There is plentiful evidence in the record that Allen-Bradley controllers did not use Bakelite backboards after 1937. Plaintiffs’ only rebuttal is that Armstrong recalls all brands of motor controllers, including Allen-Bradley motor controllers, having Bakelite backboard. If a third-party affixed or replaced parts of an Allen-Bradley motor controller with Bakelite sheets or backboards, Defendant Rockwell Automotive would not be liable for these third-party products.”

Read the full decision here.

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