Appeals Court Addresses Duty to Warn of Asbestos Exposure

According to a recent news article from the National Law Review, the court of appeals in New York has ruled on a defendant’s duty to warn a potential plaintiff of the dangers of asbestos exposure.  Specially, the question is whether the manufacturer of a non-asbestos product has a duty to warn others of the dangers of asbestos exposure because their product contains a third-party’s part, and that part contains asbestos.

gavel21While this seems rather complex, it makes more sense when we take a look at some of the facts of the case.  In that case, plaintiff worked on boilers as a technician for the United States Navy for all of the 1960s and most of the 1970s.  In his complaint, plaintiff alleged that he was exposed to deadly asbestos fibers as result of working around insulation on high heat steam valves on the boilers on which he worked.  He was suing, among others, the company that manufactured these valves. 

At trial, evidence was presented that the valve company did not manufacture the asbestos insulation used, but recommended asbestos insulation be used and actually sold the valves already equipped with the asbestos insulation made by a third party company.  The company also sold asbestos parts under its own brand name and not the name of the company that actually manufactured the asbestos components.

The jury found the valve maker liable for failing to warn plaintiff of the known dangers of asbestos in the asbestos insulation on the heat valves and awarded the defendant $32 million.  There was what Boston mesothelioma lawyers call a remittitur, and the judge reduced the verdict by $8 million based upon the evidence submitted to the jury and in the interest of justice.  However, after the verdict was awarded, the defendant appealed to the state court of appeals on the issue as to whether or not they had a duty to warn the plaintiff of the dangers of asbestos made by another company.

As one might expect and logic would dictate, the court of appeals found that defendant did have a duty to warn plaintiff of the dangers of asbestos, even though they did not actually make the asbestos insulation.  The court found that the manufacturer of a product had the duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos on the third party component, since they knew that their customers would be coming in contact with the third party product, and that product contained asbestos.  In this case, not only did they know a user might come in contact with asbestos, they actually recommended the part be used and was the merchant who sold it to the end user.  For example, when you buy a car, the car may have been made by General Motors and the brake components may have been made by Duralast, but the customer purchased a GM vehicle in the end. It would be an unjust result to excuse the manufacture of liability when they knowingly used a dangerous asbestos product as a component of something they manufactured, and, for that reason, the appellate court upheld the jury verdict.

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Additional Resources:

New York Court of Appeals Addresses the Duty to Warn of Asbestos Exposure, July 27, 2016, The National Law Review, By Amy M. Rubenstein

More Blog Entries:

Rondon v. Hennessy Industries, Inc. – “Inevitable Use” Standard in Asbestos Litigation, July 2, 2016, Boston Mesothelioma Attorney Blog

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