California Court Rejects Expansion of Product Liability Law

March 9, 2009

The California Court of Appeals recently rejected the argument that a manufacturer has a duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos that may be contained in products produced by other suppliers. The decision upholds a lower court ruling.

In the case of Taylor v. Crane, the plaintiff was exposed to asbestos-containing products during his Navy service in the mid-1960s. However, the products were not manufactured or supplied by the respondents, but instead by third parties. The plaintiff sought damages alleging that the respondent did not fulfill its duty to warn about the asbestos risks contained in the material supplied by the other manufacturers. The plaintiff asserted that the respondents had a duty to warn of hazards arising from the foreseeable uses of its product, even if that hazard arises from the addition of a product that, although manufactured by another, is used in the normal and intended operation of the defendant’s product.

In its decision, the California Appeals Court stated that imposing a duty to warn for products other than those produced by the manufacturer would impose significant burdens on defendants.

“Adopting the rule Mrs. Taylor advocates would extend potential liability for failure to warn to person far outside of the distribution chain of the defective product. Defendants whose products happen to be used in conjunction with defective products made or supplied by other could incur liability not only for their own products, but also for every other product with which their product might foreseeably be used,” the court said.

“We are pleased that the California court rejected the plaintiff’s argument because it had the potential to not only spawn new asbestos litigation in California, but also litigation against other industries,” said Ann Spragens, senior vice president, secretary and general counsel for the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America (PCI). “The plaintiff’s line of reasoning regarding foreseeable use could easily get extended to absurd consequences such as a lighter manufacturer being liable for smoking-related harms or even a bread manufacturer for peanut allergies from peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. It is well established law that a manufacturer has a duty to warn of a hazard in its own product. However, the plaintiffs sought to dramatically expand California’s product liability law by requiring a manufacturer to warn about the hazard in someone else’s product.”

In December 2008, the Washington Supreme Court addressed similar circumstances in Simonetta v. Viad Corp. and Braaten v. Saberhagen Holdings, and it too rejected arguments to expand liability.

Source: PCI

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