Supreme Court Rules on Asbestos Case

(March, 2019) The Supreme Court recently ruled that manufacturers bear some responsibility for third party additions to their products but rejected a broader interpretation by a lower court that would have burdened manufacturers considerably more. The court essentially ruled that a manufacturer has a duty to warn buyers only when its product requires the incorporation of another part that is likely to be dangerous, not to anticipate any possible addition of a product.

The case involved two Navy veterans who developed cancer after being exposed to asbestos in certain equipment. The equipment required asbestos parts, though they weren’t necessarily incorporated before delivery – the Navy added asbestos later.

The high court rejected the manufacturers’ “bare metal defense” argument in this case. The court held that “in the maritime tort context, 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 that the product’s user will realize that danger."

The Supreme Court’s ruling overturned a previous decision by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit that held manufacturers liable for “foreseeable” integrations of new parts by third parties- a much stricter standard.

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