Trial to Determine Fault for Asbestos Death

In 1950 and 1951, the Koppers Company had a plant in Kobuta, Pa. where it manufactured materials used to produce synthetic rubber. Koppers hired an independent contractor, Phillip Carey, to work on an expansion project involving removing old insulation from tanks and pipes and replacing it with new insulation. Both the old and new insulation contained asbestos. Fred Chenot, an employee of Phillip Carey, was exposed to asbestos particles while working at the Koppers plant in 1954 and again in 1955, when he was working at a power plant.

Chenot was diagnosed with mesothelioma in 1998. He filed a lawsuit against many defendants, including Beazer East Inc., the successor to Koppers. Chenot charged that Beazer breached its duty to maintain the Koppers plant in a reasonably safe condition, and to protect him from the dangers of inhaling asbestos fibers. After Chenot died in 2000, his widow continued the lawsuit.

Beazer asked the Pennsylvania trial court to grant judgment for it before trial, arguing, among other things, that Phillip Carey was a highly qualified independent contractor whose work was not controlled by Koppers/Beazer, and that Beazer should not be held liable for injuries to Phillip Carey's employee. When the court ruled for Beazer, Mrs. Chenot appealed to the Pennsylvania Superior Court. She argued that Koppers did not surrender possession or control of the premises to Phillip Carey, and that it supervised the work of Phillip Carey.

That court ruled that Mrs. Chenot was entitled to a trial of her claims against Beazer. The court noted that the record showed that Koppers specified the use of asbestos in the expansion project on which Phillip Carey and Chenot worked, and that it supplied the asbestos materials. In addition, as a member of the National Safety Council since 1918, Koppers knew of the dangers of asbestos, the court stated. According to the court, a trial was needed to determine whether Koppers' knowledge of the presence and hazards of asbestos was superior to that of Phillip Carey, its independent contractor.

WWW: Chenot v. A.P. Green Services Inc., 895 A.2d 55 (Pa. Super. 2006), Pennsylvania Superior Court, March 13, 2006.
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