On appeal from Superior Court of New Jersey, Law Division, Morris County, Docket No. L-1223-06.
NOT FOR PUBLICATION WITHOUT THE APPROVAL OF THE APPELLATE DIVISION
Before Judges Lihotz, Waugh, and St. John.
Plaintiffs Eric Leonard and Vincent Lombardo, as well as their spouses suing per quod, and plaintiff Joseph A. Acree, Jr., appeal from the Law Division's October 4, 2010 order dismissing their products liability suit against defendant Consarc Corporation (Consarc) at the close of the presentation of their evidence to the jury. We affirm.
We discern the following facts and procedural history from the record on appeal.
In 2005, Leonard, Lombardo, and Acree were employed by Howmet Dover Alloy (Howmet), which uses a vacuum induction melting furnace (VIM) to manufacture super alloys for aerospace uses. In the late 1980s, Howmet contracted with Consarc to retrofit and upgrade a VIM located at its Dover facility. As part of that project, Consarc manufactured a new vacuum chamber and dome (collectively C Furnace), an industrial crucible to fit inside the vacuum chamber, and controls for the C Furnace. Consarc had no further involvement with Howmet's equipment after the initial installation of the new C Furnace and related equipment.
On July 25, 2005, while Howmet employees were melting super alloys in the VIM's interior crucible, it tipped and spilled molten super alloy onto the floor of the C Furnace. As a result, the exterior walls of the C Furnace glowed red, causing such extreme conditions of heat that fires broke out in adjacent areas. The Rockaway Fire Department was called and extinguished the fires after all of Howmet's employees were safely evacuated from the facility.
Approximately two hours after the incident, eleven Howmet employees, including Leonard, Lombardo, and Acree, met to devise a plan to remediate the problem created by the spill. Plaintiffs, together with some of the others, returned to the location of the C Furnace to evaluate the damage.
Once inside the building, some of the employees went up to the catwalk surrounding the edge of the dome and looked into the chamber, using sight ports covered by removable glass. They were unable to see into the chamber, however, because it was filled with smoke.
The other employees went onto the dome so that they could look into the pipe through which ingredients are added or samples withdrawn. The pipe incorporates a ball-type valve, known as the "overmelt ball valve" (overmelt valve). When the overmelt valve is open, there is a view down into the crucible through a passage between the furnace chamber and the outside. As was the case with the sight ports, smoke in the chamber prevented a clear view into the chamber. Nevertheless, they could see a general reddish glow in the chamber, which they concluded might come from the red-hot interior of the crucible or molten metal on the chamber floor. Because they believed that the argon had already extinguished all fire in the chamber, they did not think there was any further hazard of fire or explosion.
In an effort to get a better view of the condition of the crucible and chamber, the workers removed the glass from the sight ports, opened the overmelt valve, and turned on the vacuum pumps to extract the smoke. The pumps expelled the smoke and argon gas. As the argon gas was removed, it was replaced by air drawn in through the sight ports, the overmelt valve, and, possibly, a hole in the chamber resulting from the original fire.
The workers were aware that, in the past, small leaks of hydraulic oil from fittings had led to fires when air was admitted to the chamber following completion of a batch. Those fires, however, were always small, harmless, and easily extinguished with portable fire extinguishers. At the time of the accident, however, they were not aware that a substantial quantity of unburned oil and resulting vapor remained in the C Furnace. They were also unaware that there was either ...