March 1, 2016

The Minnesota District Court issued an order on March 1, 2016, granting in part and denying in part summary judgment on the statute of repose defense. The statute of repose, Minn. Stat. § 541.051, bars any claim arising from a defective or unsafe condition more than 10 years after the installation of “an improvement to real property.” Defendants General Electric, CBS Corporation, and Fluor Daniel moved for summary judgment on the grounds that Minnesota’s statute of repose applied to turbines in power plants. The plaintiff claims the decedent was exposed to asbestos during frequent overhauls of the turbines from 1967 until 1980.

Presiding Judge John H. Guthmann granted the defendants’ motions in part by determining that the plaintiff was barred from raising any claim related to exposure during the initial construction of the turbines. However, Judge Guthmann denied the defendants’ motions in part, reasoning, that “plaintiff’s causes of action, to the extent they arise out of [the decedent’s] exposure to asbestos-containing products occasioned by the repair and demolition process during outages, are not barred by the statute of repose.”

Judge Guthmann provided some insight regarding future rulings on similar motions.  He reasoned that any product falling within the category of “equipment or machinery” is not subject to the protections of the statute of repose. In reaching this conclusion, he determined that the Minnesota Supreme Court overruled a Court of Appeals case holding that the “equipment or machinery” exception to the statute was not retroactive. Nevertheless, Judge Guthmann held that he did not consider turbines to be “equipment or machinery.”  It remains to be seen whether he views other products - such as boilers, pumps, and gaskets - the same way.

Judge Guthmann also suggested that not every defendant would be liable for subsequent repairs and demolition. In this case, the defendants were liable in part because the companies sent personnel to the power plants to oversee work performed on the turbines, and/or the product specifications called for the use of asbestos-containing component parts. If a defendant did neither of these things, it might be successful in asserting a statute of repose defense to a plaintiff’s claims involving exposure during subsequent repair and demolition.

Because the decedent was not present at the plants during the initial installation of the turbine, Judge Guthmann did not address whether the statute of repose would bar a plaintiff’s claims related to exposure during the initial installation. In a recent order, however, Judge Guthmann determined that the statute of repose does not bar any claims of exposure resulting from a by-product of a construction activity.

Judge John H. Guthmann oversees all asbestos-related personal injury and wrongful death cases venued in Minnesota state court. The full decision can be viewed here.

For additional information, please contact your Foley & Mansfield attorney.


Foley & Mansfield Logo