O’Neil v. Crane: The Rules Surrounding a Business’s Duty to Employees in Mesothelioma Cases

factory 2.jpgThe law is very intricate and complex, especially in asbestos exposure cases. There is only a slight distinction between when you are owed a warning from your employer and when you are not owed a warning. Do not make the mistake of thinking you do not have a case without speaking to our mesothelioma plaintiff’s attorneys first.

O’Neil v. Crane is a wrongful death case that arose where an employee was exposed to asbestos while in the workplace. O’Neil (“plaintiff”) worked at a manufacturing company called Crane Co. (“defendant”). While working in the manufacturing of pumps and valves, plaintiff came into contact with component parts that contained asbestos. The plaintiff became ill due to this exposure and consequently she passed away.

The integral part in this case hinges on the fact that the component parts were produced by a third party manufacturer outside of Crane. The plaintiff’s estate argued on the deceased plaintiff’s behalf claiming that her employer should be held strictly liable and liable under negligence because of their failure to warn workers of asbestos in the component material.

Considering there are two very different claims for liability here, the court was forced to address each claim separately.

As to the claim for strict liability, the court found that in applying the statutes governing strict liability they were unable to find the defendants liable. A party can only be held strictly liable if the plaintiff proves that the defendant was responsible for the civil wrong that caused harm to the plaintiff. The court points to the fact that there is significant case law in the manufacturing sector holding employers strictly liable however, those cases involve an employer who has asbestos elements produced within their company. In this instance, the asbestos was in component parts which the employer did not produce — therefore the court found the wrong that caused injury to the plaintiff could not be connected directly to the employer.

The next area the court discusses is the concept of negligence. The question here was whether there is a duty to warn imposed on a manufacturer to protect their employees from foreseeable harms in the workplace that could arise from exposure to component parts made outside the company. Basically, the plaintiff in this case is asking for her employer to be held liable for not foreseeing the possible injuries caused by products manufactured by another company.

The proof required in this negligence claim is four fold. The plaintiff must show that the defendant owed the plaintiff a standard duty of care, the defendant breached that duty, the breach of duty was the direct and proximate cause of the injuries that the plaintiff sustained, and there were damages.

The court held that where an employee was harmed by the elements of a component part created by a third party, the employer was not liable. Crane would not have been able to foresee that their employees were in any danger because they were not the producers of the asbestos containing parts.

Furthermore, Crane could not have warned their employees of this possible harm where they did not have the knowledge. The court cites that this proposed standard would impose too high a burden on manufacturers in areas they would be unable to control. The court stated that it would not be just to hold one manufacturer responsible for the negligence of a different manufacturer.

Having an attorney who can initially identify the at-fault parties is a crucial component in receiving the award you deserve. As this case illustrates, third-party vendors and other at-fault parties must be identified and pursued.

The Ferraro Law Firm provides comprehensive legal services, including mesothelioma legal help. Call 1-800-275-3332 for a free and confidential consultation. Offices in Miami, Washington, D.C., and New York City.

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