Court Grants Summary Judgment for Furnace Manufacturer Based on Lack of Evidence of Exposure Supreme Court of New York, Eighth Judicial District, January 24, 2020

NEW YORK – On January 24, 2020, the Honorable Deborah Chimes granted Foster Wheeler, LLC’s motion for summary judgment in the Schuman case. The plaintiff, Patricia Schuman, executrix for the decedent , Matthew Schuman, filed suit alleging that the decedent died of mesothelioma as a result of his exposure to asbestos. The decedent passed away prior to being deposed in this action, but was deposed in March 2003 in a separate action for his damages related to pleural plaques. The plaintiff argued that the decedent was exposed to asbestos while working with and around Foster Wheeler furnaces as a yardman, welder, and repairmen at Ashland Oil from 1956 through 1982. Notably, Foster Wheeler was not identified in the plaintiff’s answers to interrogatories, which the court determined shifted the burden to the plaintiff to establish that the decedent worked in the vicinity of where the defendant’s products were used, and that the decedent was exposed to the defendant’s product.

The plaintiff relied on the decedent’s 2003 testimony, as well as co-worker testimony. In his 2003 deposition, the decedent testified that Foster Wheeler once may have worked as the prime contractor on the synthetic gas plant. However, the court noted that there was nothing regarding this testimony which established asbestos exposure attributable to Foster Wheeler. The co-worker identified Foster Wheeler as a manufacturer of a furnace located at Ashland Oil, and claimed that he observed the decedent working on the furnace. However, the court noted that there was no testimony which established that the decedent insulated or worked with insulation or asbestos-containing components on the Foster Wheeler furnace, or was present when others did so. The plaintiff also unsuccessfully attempted to rely on previous corporate representative testimony for Foster Wheeler, which generally stated that Foster Wheeler furnaces or heaters used in oil refineries “may or may not have contained asbestos components” including insulation, gaskets, and seals.

The court concluded that the plaintiff failed to reveal any admissible evidence showing that the decedent was exposed to asbestos or asbestos-containing components or products as a result of any work on or near the Foster Wheeler furnace at the refinery. Notably, the court held that the mere presence of a defendant’s furnace is insufficient to create a reasonable inference that it was a source of an asbestos-containing product to which the decedent was exposed. Therefore, the court granted Foster Wheeler’s motion for summary judgment.

Read the case decision here.