Machinist’s Family Gets New Shot at Asbestos Case

     (CN) — The Ninth Circuit vacated a summary judgment award in favor of two asbestos-laden product manufacturers accused of causing a Navy machinist’s lung disease and death.
     Robert Dale Gottschall worked as a marine machinist for the U.S. Navy, Army and the Department of Defense from 1952 to 1989.
     His many jobs exposed him to asbestos as the products he had to handle contained the poisonous substance, according to a lawsuit his daughter filed in 2012.
     Gottschall’s repeated inhalation of toxic asbestos fibers at work allegedly gave him cumulative, progressive and incurable lung diseases.
     Following Gottschall’s death in April 2010, his daughter, Kimbra Gottschall, and four other heirs Debra Gaball, Raymond Gottschall, Robert W. Gottschall, and Ronald Gottschall sued asbestos product manufacturers in San Francisco federal court.
     The four-count amended complaint brought claims for negligence, products liability, survival and wrongful death.
     But after dismissing several defendants, the court granted summary judgment to two Virginia-based defendants, General Dynamics Corp. and Huntington Ingalls Inc.
     The Gottschall family appealed, and the Ninth Circuit vacated the lower court’s ruling Wednesday.
     The lower court never ruled on the defendants’ essential claim that “the government made me do it” — its government-contractor defense, according to the four-page ruling.
     “The defendant ‘must show that it acted in compliance with reasonably precise specifications imposed on it by the United States in deciding whether to provide a warning,'” the unsigned ruling states. “Here, the parties pointed to conflicting evidence regarding the Navy’s labeling policies, so summary judgment is not appropriate.”
     The three-judge panel also wrote, “The California Supreme Court has recently made clear that the summary judgment entered by the district court, in reliance on a decision by the multi- district litigation court in Pennsylvania, was based on an incorrect understanding of California law.”
     California’s high court held that a product supplier must show that it actually and reasonably relied on a knowledgeable intermediary to warn end users in order to establish a defense under the sophisticated-intermediary doctrine, the ruling states.
     The Gottschall family’s attorneys with Brayton Purcell in Novato, Calif., did not return requests for comment emailed Thursday.
     Huntington’s San Francisco-based attorneys with Tucker Ellis and General Dynamics’ attorneys with Brydon Hugo & Parker and Jackson Jenkins Renstrom also did not return requests for comment.

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