On May 31, 2012, Judge John Parkins, Jr. of the New Castle County, Delaware Superior Court, granted a Motion for Summary Judgment filed by Defendant Superior Lidgerwood Mundy, as successor to M.T. Davidson, in the matter of Jon T. Wolz v. Aerco International, Inc. C.A. N10C-09-211 ASB. Superior Lidgerwood Mundy was represented by M&K counsel Paul Sunshine and Frank Friestedt.

The Plaintiff had alleged that its decedent, Thomas Milstead, was exposed to asbestos emanating from two M.T. Davidson pumps while serving aboard the USS Independence from 1965 to 1969. Through the use of Naval records and the expert testimony of Merchant Marine Captain William Lowell (Retired), Plaintiff successfully established that two circulating pumps manufactured by the Defendant were located in the machinery space where Mr. Milstead was stationed. Additionally, a shipmate testified that part of Mr. Milstead’s duties generally included servicing and maintaining all of the pumps in the area in which the pumps operated. Citing the rationale contained in the recent Maryland Court of Appeals decision in Reiter v. Pneumo Abex, LLC. 8 A.3d 725, 732 (Md. 2010), this evidence was deemed sufficient for a reasonable jury to find, as a matter of fact, that Mr. Milstead worked with or around the two M.T. Davidson pumps.

In its Motion for Summary Judgment, however, in addition to arguing that the product nexus was not met, Defendant argued that Plaintiff had not established that any asbestos containing component parts utilized in the pumps were supplied or manufactured by the Defendant and, as such, under Maryland law it owed no duty to Mr. Milstead for any exposure he may have experienced. As evidence, Defendant showed that Plaintiff’s expert, Captain Lowell, testified that it was more likely than not that all original asbestos containing component parts which may have been originally supplied with the pumps would have been removed by the time Mr. Milstead came into contact with them. And, pursuant to Maryland law, the substantive law applicable to the facts in this case, Defendant could not be found liable for any damages associated with the asbestos exposure.

The Defendant argued that the Maryland Court of Special Appeals decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Wood, 703 A.2d 1315 (Md. Ct. Spec. App. 1998) controlled the outcome in the present case. In Wood, the Court found that Ford could not be held responsible for the latent dangers of asbestos emanating from automotive component parts that Ford did not manufacture or place in the stream of commerce. Applying the same rationale in the Wolz case, the Court found that Superior Lidgerwood Mundy could not be held responsible for the asbestos containing component parts installed in its pumps after those pumps left the control of the manufacturer.

Following oral argument and supplemental briefing by both parties, the Court issued a nine page written decision in which it ruled that Defendant owed no duty to Plaintiff for asbestos containing component parts it neither manufactured nor placed into the stream of commerce. Further, determining that there existed no duty to warn, it found that Maryland’s application of strict liability precluded liability on behalf of Superior Lidgerwood Mundy because the component parts which purportedly exposed Mr. Milstead to asbestos were not manufactured or placed into the stream of commerce by it.

This case will have wide ranging effects on future cases brought in Delaware. This is especially true in Naval cases where it is often argued that Plaintiffs are exposed to asbestos from gaskets and packing utilized in various pieces of equipment. Typically, the Plaintiff is not aware of the maintenance history of any given piece of equipment once he comes into contact with it. As such, it is nearly impossible to prove that the component parts are original to the equipment, which they virtually never are, or whether the equipment manufacturer supplied the replacement parts, which it typically does not. We look forward to reliance upon this decision to obtain similar verdicts for our clients going forward.