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Cal. Supreme Court Allows New Defense in Product Liability Cases

Friday, October 28, 2016By Richard Alexander

People are sometimes hurt badly by defective products. Whether it’s a faulty car part that leads to a crash, disease-causing asbestos, or something else, it takes a skilled attorney to identify what went wrong and who is responsible. These tasks are more important than ever after a recent California Supreme Court case that added a defense for wrongdoers in these important lawsuits.

The area of law that deals with injuries due to defective products is known as products liability law. There are many different things that may cause a product to be regarded as faulty and defective and entitle an injured person to a money recovery. These include a poor design, inadequate materials or manufacture, and a failure to provide adequate warnings.

The case before the California Supreme Court involved the failure to provide adequate warnings. The injured person was a man named Webb who had worked for many years for a piping supply company. He developed mesothelioma, a fatal type of cancer that affects the lungs, from having been exposed to a type of asbestos cement pipe known as “Transite.” He handled the pipe for 10 years on the job. Although the pipe was dusty, it had no warning on it. He was never told that the pipe dust could cause cancer, and he was neither advised nor required to wear a respirator.

Several companies had been involved in supplying the pipe to Mr. Webb’s employer. The asbestos that was used in the pipe was purchased by Johns-Manville from an overseas supplier located by a broker, Special Electric. Johns-Manville used the asbestos to make the pipe it sold, through other companies, to Mr. Webb’s employer.

Mr. Webb and his wife sued Special Electric, Johns-Manville, and others. Special Electric argued that it should not be held liable for failing to warn Mr. Webb because an intermediary, Johns-Manville, knew about the dangers of asbestos. In essence, Special Electric argued that Johns-Manville should have informed end users like Mr. Webb about the danger of the product.

The trial resolved many of the disputes between the parties. However, the trial judge agreed with Special Electric that it could not be held liable for the failure to warn Mr. Webb. Webb appealed, and the first appellate court that heard his case held that Special Electric should have provided warnings to Johns-Manville and Mr. Webb about the dangers of asbestos. Upset with this turn of events, Special Electric appealed to the California Supreme Court.

The California Supreme Court held that Special Electric could be held liable for failing to provide effective warnings to end users such as Mr. Webb. However, the Court also held that, in some narrow circumstances, companies like Special Electric may not be held liable. This might occur, for instance, when a company in the product chain, such as Johns-Manville, was sophisticated and already aware of the dangers posed by a product.

The San Francisco personal injury attorneys at Alexander Law Group, LLP will work with you to procure all possible monetary compensation after your injury due to a defective product. Our goal is to help our clients receive proper compensation for their pain and suffering. You can reach one of our San Francisco personal injury attorneys at 888.777.1776. Alternatively, you can use our online contact form and we will get back to you promptly.

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