United States District Court for the Southern District of New York, March 28, 2022
In this asbestos action, plaintiff Arnold Pritt alleged that he was exposed to asbestos during his service in the United States Navy and during his career as a civilian electrician. Mr. Pritt was diagnosed with mesothelioma in September 2019. On October 10, 2019, he filed suit in the New York State Supreme Court against various defendants, including the General Electric Company (GE). The case was then sent to federal court due to Mr Pritt’s allegations stemming from his time in the US Navy. With respect to GE, Mr. Pritt alleged that the defendant General Electric Company designed and manufactured products containing asbestos which caused his mesothelioma. GE moved (1) to preclude the testimony of Plaintiff’s expert witness and (2) to obtain summary judgment on all claims against him.
With respect to Mr. Pritt’s career as a civilian electrician, he worked as a union electrician for various electrical contractors between 1972 and 1980. He testified that he worked with asbestos-containing equipment made by eight manufacturers , including GE. This equipment included switchgears, motor control centers, safety switches/disconnectors, circuit breakers, circuit breaker panels, relays, contactors and arc chutes. Mr. Pritt testified that he encountered asbestos while working on GE equipment and often used an air hose, wire brush and rag to keep GE equipment free of dust. accumulated asbestos. He also testified that he drilled and cut some of GE’s electrical equipment and that this resulted in the release of asbestos dust.
In response to plaintiff’s claims, GE first offered to withhold the testimony of Dr. Candace Su-Junt Tsai, an industrial hygienist. Dr. Tsai’s report included an “exposure assessment” that looked at the tasks that Mr. Pritt performed in his job and assessed the type of asbestos-containing equipment involved in his daily tasks. GE argued that this report would not help the jury because Dr. Tsai assumed that Mr. Pritt’s alleged exposure was significant. Additionally, GE argued that Dr. Tsai failed to address the issue before the jury of whether or not GE products were a substantial contributing factor to the onset of Mr. Pritt’s illness. The court disagreed with GE, noting that plaintiffs can obtain Dr. Tsai’s testimony which depends on separate evidence to be presented by other witnesses. Additionally, the court noted that the purpose of Dr. Tsai’s testimony was to pronounce on the amount of asbestos dust exposure from particular types of work, and that GE may attempt to undermine the basis for those opinions. At the trial. As such, the court denied GE’s motion to restrain Dr. Tsai’s testimony.
Next, GE argued that it was entitled to summary judgment because the plaintiffs failed to demonstrate that GE’s products or its failure to warn were substantial factors in Mr. Pritt’s mesothelioma case, or that GE had a duty to warn Mr. Pritt of the asbestos hazards. Additionally, GE argued that it was shielded from liability for Mr. Pritt’s alleged military exposure due to the government contractor’s defense. With respect to plaintiff’s claims arising from Mr. Pritt’s time in the navy, the court applied maritime law to each claim and found no material dispute of material fact. As such, the court granted GE’s motion for summary judgment regarding the naval claims.
On the other hand, the court concluded that there was a genuine dispute of fact regarding Mr. Pritt’s exposure to asbestos during his civilian career. GE pointed out that Mr. Pritt had never “cut, drilled, ground, sanded or otherwise handled any suspected asbestos-containing component in GE electrical equipment”, and further noted that Dr. Tsai had stated that it “did not quantify any specific company’s product in terms of significant exposure or not. However, the court found that Mr. Pritt testified that material inside GE’s electrical panels would crack and would collapse, producing dust, and further found that the claimant’s demonstration of substantial exposure was not limited to the testimony of Dr. Tsai, but rather the testimony of other experts. dismissed GE’s motion for summary judgment on substantial grounds.
Finally, with respect to GE’s failure to warn argument, GE argued that Mr. Pritt had never read a GE manual and therefore the absence of a warning in a manual of GE could not have caused Mr. Pritt’s mesothelioma. Further, GE argued that even if it had provided warnings, the warnings would not have mattered because Mr. Pritt’s testimony demonstrates that he would not have heeded those warnings. In response, the plaintiffs argued that Mr. Pritt testified that he relied on statements he had read in manuals and packaging on other GE equipment. Further, the plaintiffs pointed out that Mr. Pritt testified that his job responsibilities remained the same, regardless of a warning. The plaintiffs further argued that Mr. Pritt did not testify that he would not have changed the way he discharged his job responsibilities if he had read a disclaimer. Based on the arguments raised by the plaintiffs, the court found that there was a genuine dispute as to causation under the lack of warning argument. As such, the court also denied GE’s motion for summary judgment for lack of warning.