Court Upholds Common Sense on Asbestos Liability

By February 17, 2010Briefly Legal

In an opinion issued Wednesday, the Court of Appeals of California, Second Appellate District, upheld a trial court’s ruling that a company that made products that contained no asbestos could not be held liable for asbestos-related injuries. Seems sensible enough, but there are plenty of cases where people are suing under the theory that the companies had a duty to warm about potential harm from the use of other products.

The case is Hall v. Warren Pumps, LLC. The court’s summary:

Alfred Hall, husband of appellant Bertie Hall, died of mesothelioma caused by workplace exposure to asbestos. Appellant is suing four manufacturers of pumps and valves for Mr. Hall’s injuries. None of the defendants manufacture asbestos products.

The trial court gave judgment to defendants. The court found that defendants had no liability because they did not manufacture, sell or distribute the asbestos products that injured Mr. Hall, nor did they have a duty to warn about using asbestos products with their pumps and valves. The court rejected appellant’s theory that defendants could be liable for harmful asbestos products they neither made nor sold if they could foresee the use of such products with their equipment. We agree, and affirm the judgment.

The National Association of Manufacturers joined other business groups in filing an amicus brief in support of the defendants. The NAM’s Legal Beagle entry on the case explains:

The third-party liability concept that plaintiffs seek to impose here is so extreme that almost no plaintiff during the 30-plus years of asbestos litigation has dared even raise it until recently.

Such a duty would require bread or jam manufacturers to warn of the foreseeable risk of peanut allergies in peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Consumer safety could also be undermined by the potential for over-warning (the “Boy Who Cried Wolf” problem) and through conflicting information that may be provided by manufacturers of different components and by makers of finished products. The duty to warn should be placed on the party in the best position to know the risk, and any economic loss should be borne by the party who caused it.

The brief is here.

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