Component parts are now a significant issue in asbestos litigation. Courts have reached different conclusions about when a defendant can be liable for the use of asbestos-containing components within its products. Although a manufacturer is generally not liable for asbestos-related injuries resulting from exposure through parts it did not manufacture or distribute, some courts have found a duty to warn in certain limited circumstances. The District of South Carolina recently considered this issue as applied in maritime law in Dandridge v. Crane Co.
The victim was exposed to asbestos through his work as a coppersmith and pipefitter at a naval yard. The victim and the plaintiff filed suit against several defendants, but, as of the court’s decision as to the motion for summary judgment, just one defendant remained. They alleged that the flange gaskets used to link the defendant’s valves to pipe lines contained asbestos. After the victim’s death, the plaintiff moved forward with the case individually and as the personal representative of the estate. The defendant moved for summary judgment.
The court noted that the plaintiff must prove causation with respect to each defendant. Maritime law, which applied to this case, requires a plaintiff to show that the victim was exposed to the defendant’s product and that the defendant’s product was a substantial factor in causing the injury. The “bare metal” defense holds that a manufacturer is not liable for asbestos exposure from component or replacement parts it did not manufacture or distribute.
In this case, the plaintiff argued that the defendant had a duty to warn the victim of asbestos exposure from the flange gaskets used with the defendant’s valves. The court noted that some courts have applied an exception to the bare metal defense in failure to warn cases when it is inevitable that the product would expose the people working with it to the dangers of asbestos.
The court considered Quirin v. Lorillard, in which the Northern District of Illinois set forth the elements that would impose a duty to warn on a manufacturer who did not make or distribute the asbestos-containing component. First, the manufacturer must design the product to be used with materials that contain asbestos and incorporate those materials into its product. Additionally, the manufacturer’s product must need the component that contains asbestos to function correctly.
The court found that the plaintiff here had not presented evidence that the defendant made it inevitable that the victim would be exposed to asbestos. The court noted there was evidence that some of the defendant’s valves were designed for use with flange gaskets that contain asbestos in high heat situations. The court found that even if the valves required gaskets with asbestos in certain applications, and even if the defendant provided the specifications for that use, the plaintiff had not presented evidence that the defendant actually incorporated a component containing asbestos into its products. The court did not go so far as to adopt Quirin, but instead it said that if it applied, it must be applied narrowly. Thus, without evidence that the defendant actually incorporated the asbestos-containing component into its own product, the court did not apply the exception to the bare metal defense. The court did not accept evidence of a catalog and advertisements that indicated that flange gaskets were available from the defendant because those documents were produced many years before the victim’s employment at the naval yard. Furthermore, they did not say that the defendant distributed the gaskets with the valves, but merely indicated the customer could purchase them together. This evidence did not meet the inevitability requirement. Additionally, the victim had testified that the flange gaskets came from the gasket shop.
The court found there was no genuine issue of material fact regarding whether the defendant owed the plaintiff a duty to warn and whether a breach of such a duty caused the victim’s injury. The court therefore granted the defendant’s motion for summary judgment.
As the court discussed in this case, courts have been somewhat inconsistent in determining the liability of manufacturers that use component parts. Our mesothelioma attorneys understand the importance of knowing current case law and thoroughly investigating the case to find any evidence that supports the claims.
Help for mesothelioma victims can be found at The Ferraro Law Firm by calling 1-800-275-3332. Offices in Miami and Washington, D.C.
Dandridge v. Crane Co., January 27, 2016, United States District Court for the District of South Carolina, Charleston Division
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