Iowa Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment

On March 17, 2021, the Iowa Court of Appeals issued an opinion affirming the District Court’s ruling in favor of an insulation contractor defendant represented by SST. A three-judge panel consisting of Presiding Judge Daniel May and Judges Sharon Greer and Julie Schumacher heard oral argument in the case on February 25, 2021 and Judge May wrote the opinion on behalf of the Court. 

Judge May’s opinion interpreted Iowa Code Section 686B.7(5), which states: “A defendant in an asbestos action or silica action shall not be liable for exposures from a product or component part made or sold by a third party.” This statute was enacted in 2017 and was raised as a defense by SST on behalf of its client, a Davenport-based insulation contractor. The lower court granted summary judgment in favor of SST’s client in October 2019 (see below for more details). 

In his opinion, Judge May noted that the statute is “aimed at regulating civil lawsuits arising from asbestos and silica injuries” and protects parties who did not manufacture asbestos products but still face litigation arising from their use, even decades later. He further opined that the immunity protection afforded by Section 686B should not be limited strictly to “manufacturers” and is not, as plaintiffs argued, merely a codification of the “bare metal” defense. In the Court’s view, Section 686 will naturally tend to “refocus asbestos litigation on more culpable targets, such as asbestos manufacturers.” The Court noted that the plaintiffs had raised equal protection and due process challenges for the first time at the appellate level and declined to address these arguments as they were not preserved for appeal. 

The Appellate Court’s ruling signals a shifting attitude on legacy liability claims based on asbestos exposure and will have a significant impact on future asbestos claims filed in, or arising from exposures in, the State of Iowa.

For more information, please contact Doug Sinars or Kevin Horan.