SAN FRANCISCO — A federal judge has denied a shipyard company's request for summary judgment in an asbestos exposure lawsuit brought by the estate of a now-deceased worker.
In an April 2 ruling, U.S. District Judge Charles R. Breyer found that the estate's claim that machinist Robert Hilt was exposed to asbestos-containing materials in the original boilers of the ships he worked on was reasonable because they were new.
Hilt worked at Hunters Point Naval Shipyard in San Francisco from 1965 until 1972. In 2008, he was diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma and died two years later.
In its motion for summary judgment, Foster Wheeler argued that the estate failed to show a "regular, frequent or systematic exposure" to its boilers. Foster Wheeler also argued that the plaintiffs hadn't overcome the "bare metal defense," meaning they failed to submit evidence that the company "manufactured, sold or supplied the actual asbestos-containing component parts" Hilt was exposed to.
An expert witness from his estate testified that two ships on which Hilt worked -- the USS Bradley and USS Constellation -- were "relatively new" at the time. The witness also concluded that it was "more likely than not" that Hilt was exposed to and inhaled asbestos fibers.
"It is virtually impossible for decendent to have avoided being exposed to asbestos," the expert testified.
He based his conclusion on a review showing the ships were commissioned shortly before Hilt worked on them. Deposition testimony indicated that Hilt worked in close proximity to Foster Wheeler boilers on a daily basis for several months.
Another expert witness, who is a physician, concluded that Hilt's exposure to asbestos from Foster Wheeler's boilers "was a substantial factor in causing decedent's asbestos-related disease." In its response, the company argued that the court should discredit the opinions of the expert witnesses because they "lacked personal knowledge, and therefore had no foundation, to form their opinions."
The court disagreed saying, there were no other "remaining grounds in Foster Wheeler's motion for summary judgment."