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MetLife Awarded Summary Judgment on Asbestos Conspiracy Claim

September 25, 2003 – Media Coverage

BRUNSWICK, Ga. - Metropolitan Life has been awarded summary judgment in an asbestos case where the plaintiff accused the insurer of negligence and conspiracy to withhold information about the hazards of asbestos exposure. Flanders v. Garlock, Inc., No. 02-178 (S.D. Ga.).

In a decision issued Aug. 11, Judge Anthony A. Alaimo of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Georgia said that because MetLife never manufactured or sold an asbestos-containing product and never made any representation relied on by the plaintiff, it cannot be held liable for causing his asbestos-related illness.

Claude Flanders sued MetLife and numerous other defendants for his alleged asbestos-related illness, which Flanders claimed was caused by his exposure to the fiber while working at shipyards in Brunswick, Ga., and while mixing mortar in the late 1940s and early 1950s.

MetLife, a health insurer that participated in asbestos-related studies during the 1930s and 1940s, moved to dismiss Flanders' allegations of strict liability, negligence and civil conspiracy resulting from their participation in the studies.

However, Judge Alaimo determined that under Georgia law, a defendant must be a manufacturer of a product in order to be held strictly liable for injuries such as those alleged by Flanders. Similarly, MetLife had no special duty or relationship to Flanders that would subject the insurer to liability for alleged negligence or civil conspiracy, the judge said.

The mere fact that a defendant is a member of, or was in contact with, a group - in this case one that performed studies to determine the health hazards associated with asbestos - does not create a cause of action for negligence or civil conspiracy, Judge Alaimo said.

'Likewise, if a duty did exist, Metropolitan Life is not the proximate cause of Plaintiff's injuries,' Judge Alaimo wrote.

Flanders' claim will fail as a matter of law where proximate cause is left to speculation and conjecture, especially in the instant matter where it creates only a 'strained link' between MetLife and Flanders.

Specifically with regard to Flanders' claim for civil conspiracy, the court said that under Georgia law such an allegation must be based on underlying tortious conduct. Flanders alleged fraud as the basis for his conspiracy claim, yet failed to show the requisite false representation made by MetLife and evidence that his alleged injury was the result of his relying on any information provided by the company.

'Because Plaintiff's fraud claim is not cognizable, the conspiracy claim also fails and summary judgment is appropriate on Plaintiff's claims,' the judge concluded.

Flanders is represented by C. Darrell Gossett of Lane & Gossett in Brunswick, Ga.

Garlock, Inc., is represented by Robert A. Barnaby II of Carter & Ansley in Atlanta. Counsel to John Crane, Inc., is Ollie M. Harton of Hawkins Parnell & Young in Atlanta.

Document Is Available Call (800) 496-4319 or Search Opinion Ref# ASB-0309-05

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