The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in late March that manufacturers are liable for asbestos-containing materials they did not make, distribute or install, however were necessary in order for their equipment to function properly. The maritime-law ruling involved Navy veterans who were not warned about the danger of asbestos insulation added by a third-party to pumps, turbines and blowers aboard three different ships.
The ruling, called a “gamechanger” by attorney Daniel Wasserberg of Meirowitz & Wasserberg LLP in New York City, will allow cases filed originally by Navy veterans Kenneth McAfee and John DeVries to move forward against five separate manufacturers.
This all began with a 2014 district court case in Philadelphia that granted a summary judgement. Then in 2017, the US Court of Appeals remanded the case, ruling that manufactures may face liability and finally ended in late March 2019 with the Supreme Court ruling.
“This maritime tort case raises a question
about the scope of a manufacturer’s duty to warn,” wrote Justice Brett
Kavanaugh, who delivered the opinion of the court.
Kavanaugh explained that a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when:
- Its product requires incorporation of a part;
- The manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses; and
- The manufacturer has no reason to believe the product’s users will realize that danger.
“If the manufacturers had provided warnings, the workers on the ships presumably could have worn respirator masks and thereby avoided the danger,” Kavanaugh wrote. “The product manufacturer knows the nature of the ultimate integrated product and is typically more aware of the risks associated with that integrated product.”
Dissenting Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch argued: “A home chef who buys a butcher’s knife may expect to read warnings about the dangers of knives, but not about the dangers of undercooked meat: Likewise, a purchaser of gasoline may expect to see warnings at the pump about its flammability, but not about the dangers of recklessly driving a car.“
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