Monday, October 24, 2011

Neal Parker v. Schmiede Machine & Tool Corporation

Oct 21: In the U.S. Court of Appeals, Eleventh Circuit, Case Nos. 10-14703 & 10-14741. Appealed from the United States District Court for the Northern District of Georgia. In this unpublished opinion the plaintiffs are all current or former employees of the Lockheed Martin Corporation (Lockheed) who worked in its aircraft manufacturing plant in Marietta, Georgia. They have had a variety of different job responsibilities, time periods of employment, and work areas at the Lockheed facility, but they all have worked with and around beryllium-containing products.
    According to the Plaintiffs, any action that disturbs the surface layer of beryllium ceramic or metal can produce respirable particles. Sandblasting, polishing, drilling, and other types of high-velocity abrading are especially likely to generate respirable particles. In 1948, the Atomic Energy Commission established an exposure standard for beryllium of 2.0 μg/m³. This exposure standard was adopted by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA") and remains in place today. The Plaintiffs assert that even though this remains OSHA's standard, the beryllium manufacturing industry has long known that this standard is
inadequate to keep workers safe from the effects of respirable beryllium.
    The Plaintiffs claim that their handling of beryllium or their presence in areas where beryllium was being handled led to three of them contracting chronic beryllium disease (CBD), and nine of them getting beryllium sensitization, a precursor to CBD. The plaintiffs sued Lockheed and various manufacturers of beryllium parts in Georgia state court alleging a number of claims, of which only the failure-to-warn claims remain. The defendants removed the action to the District Court for the Northern District of Georgia.
    After a year-and-a-half of extensive discovery, the defendants moved for summary judgment. Although the district court originally denied the defendants' motions for summary judgment, the court later reversed itself and, in September 2010, granted summary judgment on the basis of the "sophisticated user doctrine" and the lack of direct causation. The plaintiffs appealed the rulings.
    The Appeals Court agreed with the district court and ruled, ". . . the Plaintiffs have failed to make a showing sufficient to create a genuine issue of fact that the Defendants possessed information regarding a hazard of beryllium and that Lockheed lacked actual knowledge of that hazard. The Plaintiffs have failed with respect to both prongs; the Plaintiffs have failed to show either that Lockheed lacked knowledge of a particular hazard, or that these Defendants did have knowledge of that hazard. The overwhelming evidence in this record shows that Lockheed was a learned and sophisticated user of beryllium, and, if anything, possessed knowledge superior to that of these four Defendants.
    After a review of the briefs and the evidence cited by the parties. . . as well as the benefit of oral argument, we conclude that the Plaintiffs have not adduced any evidence that would rebut the Defendants' defense that Lockheed Martin was a learned intermediary and a sophisticated user of beryllium. Accordingly, we affirm the judgment of the district court."
    Access the complete opinion (click here). [#Toxics, #CA11]

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