Naval Contractor’s Summary Judgment Win Overturned on Appeal Court of Appeal, First District, Division 5, California, June 26, 2019

CALIFORNIA – Yesterday, a three-judge panel reversed a California trial court’s grant of summary judgement for the defendant, Triple A Machine Shop (Triple A), Inc., and remanded the matter to the trial court for further determination of Triple A’s arguments in support of summary adjudication. The decedent, Michael Harris, sued Triple A, among others, and alleged that their subcontracted work overhauling the USS San Jose in San Francisco for over three months in 1973 disturbed asbestos and contributed to the development of his mesothelioma. The panel determined that a triable issue of fact was created when they considered industrial hygienist William Ewing’s testimony, Triple A’s job file, and Harris’s testimony.

Harris, a United States Navy hull maintenance technician, had testified that he didn’t recall any specifics regarding the work that Triple A’s personnel had done while working on the USS San Jose. However, he estimated that he had spent 20 hours in the engine room while the ship was in Triple A’s shipyard. In opposition to the summary judgement motion, the plaintiffs presented evidence that Triple A’s job duties for the overhaul involved “the cleaning of all rust, dirt, and asbestos,” to include work in the engine room. They also cited Ewing’s re-entertainment testimony which posited that ” Harris did not need to [be] present at the exact time that the [asbestos] material was being removed…by Triple A workers,” but that asbestos fibers remained in the air for “hours or even days.” Because Triple A moved for summary judgement solely on the issue of exposure, the panel did not address whether the alleged exposures, if any, were a substantial factor in causing Harris’s mesothelioma.