Sidley successfully represented General Electric Co. (GE) in high-profile product liability multidistrict litigation (MDL) involving occupational asbestos exposure aboard a U.S. Navy Destroyer. On July 8, 2021, Sidley helped GE to obtain an impactful summary judgment win that will have significant implications for hundreds of related cases around the country.
The Plaintiff in this case alleged that he was exposed to asbestos while in the U.S. Navy between 1957 and 1960 and serving on the U.S.S. Turner, a Gearing-class destroyer for which GE manufactured several steam turbines. The litigation involves key issues around standards for the duty to warn regarding asbestos insulation that GE did not make, sell, or specify, but that was later applied to the Navy steam turbines by the shipyard pursuant to Navy specifications. Sidley previously prevailed on summary judgment under the “bare metal” doctrine, which held that manufacturers of Navy equipment had no duty to warn about asbestos insulation applied and made by others pursuant to Navy specifications. This outcome was appealed to the Third Circuit and later to the U.S. Supreme Court, resulting in a new standard articulated by Justice Kavanaugh.
On July 8, 2021, GE prevailed once again, with MDL Judge Eduardo Robreno of the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania granting GE’s motion for summary judgment. Judge Robreno held that under the new Supreme Court standard, GE owed no duty to warn about insulation later applied to the Navy steam turbines that it supplied in the 1940s, as there was no dispute that the turbines could function with non-asbestos insulation. Judge Robreno followed the Supreme Court’s “narrowly cabined” duty definition, which although not the bright line standard previously applied under the “bare metal” doctrine, was nowhere near as broad as the foreseeability standard advocated by plaintiffs at the Supreme Court.
For three decades, Sidley has represented GE as national coordinating counsel and trial counsel in asbestos litigation, and over that time, has assisted GE in obtaining dozens of summary judgments, dismissals, and trial victories extricating GE from numerous asbestos cases.
The Sidley team was led by Chicago partner Tim Kapshandy and included Paul Zidlicky (Washington, D.C.), John Heller (Chicago), and Shalyn Caulley (Chicago).