|August 19, 2009|
Previously published on August 6, 2009
A Washington appeals court recently admitted that it was mistaken when it ruled last year that a manufacturer of ship engines was liable for asbestos insulation that was made by another manufacturer.
In Anderson v. Asbestos Corp., Wash. Ct. App., No. 60271-3-I (July 13, 2009), the appeals court reversed itself and held that Caterpillar Inc. cannot be found legally responsible for the development of a ship worker’s asbestos-related disease and resulting death in light of the landmark rulings from the Washington Supreme Court in Simonetta v. Viad Corp., 165 Wash.2d 341, 197 P.3d 127 (2008) & Braaten v. Saberhagen Holdings, 165 Wash.2d 373, 198 P.3d 493 (2008).
Simonetta and Braaten each held that a manufacturer cannot be held liable for failing to warn about the hazards associated with another manufacturer’s product that was not sold with the original equipment.
To understand the Anderson court’s sudden and complete turnaround, it is important to look back at the two earlier Washington Supreme Court cases addressing other manufacturer’s insulation products. The Braaten court held that defendant companies do not have a duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos exposure for “(1) insulation applied to pumps and valves the defendant-manufacturers sold to the navy, where the manufacturers did not manufacture or sell the insulation and were not in the chain of distribution of it, and (2) in replacement packing and gaskets installed in or connected to the pumps and valves after they were installed aboard ships, where the manufacturers did not manufacture or sell the replacement packing and gaskets, and were not in the chain of distribution of these products”. Id. at 397.
The Simonetta court held that a manufacturer of an evaporator used for desalinization of sea water on a navy ship was not liable and owed no duty to warn a former navy machinist of the danger created by exposure to asbestos insulation it did not make, sell or supply, even though the evaporator was built with the knowledge that insulation was required for its proper operation.
In the case at hand, the Anderson court noted that Caterpillar Inc. manufactured engines which were used on various ships on which the plaintiff worked. These ship engines utilized asbestos insulation that was made and sold by other unrelated companies. Although Caterpillar was well aware that the insulation would be used in conjunction with its ship engines, the supreme court’s recent decisions held that Caterpillar did not have a common law duty, under either strict products liability or negligence, to issue warnings for exposure to someone else’s asbestos insulation. The appeals court therefore reversed its prior ruling and affirmed the trial court’s ruling barring plaintiff from arguing at trial that her late husband died in part from his exposure to asbestos that insulated Caterpillar engines. “We have reconsidered our original decision and now affirm the judgment on the defense verdict at trial,” the court said.
It is fair to predict that the sound reasoning and logic displayed by the Washington Supreme Court, finding that a manufacturer is not liable and has no duty to warn for another’s insulation product, will continue to become the trend in many more jurisdictions across the country where asbestos litigation takes place. Equipment manufacturers should not be held hostage by the plaintiff’s bar for potential liability caused by exposure to exterior asbestos insulation and replacement gaskets and packing that were manufactured by others.
The following decisions from other jurisdictions seem to offer support for this predicted trend:
- Powell v. Standard Brands Paint Co., 166 Cal.App.3d 357, 364 (1985) (manufacturer’s duty is restricted to warnings based on the characteristics of the manufacturer’s own product);
- Fricke v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp., 618 So.2d 473 (La.Ct.App. 1993) (manufacturer is not liable for inadequate warnings regarding a product it neither made nor sold);
- Firestone Steel Prods. Co. v. Barajas, 927 S.W.2d 608, 616 (Tex. 1996) (manufacturer has no duty to warn or instruct about another manufacturer’s products, even if it knows those products might be used in conjunction with the manufacturer’s products);
- Reynolds v. Bridgestone/Firestone, Inc., 989 F.2d 465,472 (11th Cir. 1993) (manufacturer of nondefective component tire cannot be held liable for a defective rim that it did not make or sell);
- Cleary v. Reliance Fuel Oil Assocs., 17 A.D.3d 503, 793 N.Y.S.2d 468 (N.Y.App.Div. 2005) (water heater manufacturer had no duty to warn of dangers of misplacing an aquastat it did not make);
- In re Deep Vein Thrombosis, 356 F.Supp.2d 1055, 1067-68 (N.D.Cal. 2005) (finding Boeing had no duty to warn the airlines about defective seats manufactured by another).