Brief Fact Summary.
The defendant manufactured parts for Navy ships using asbestos. Two Navy veterans were exposed to the asbestos on the ships and later died of cancer.
Synopsis of Rule of Law.
In maritime cases involving dangerous parts in a manufactured product, a manufacturer has a duty to warn when its product requires the incorporation of a part that the manufacturer knows would cause the integrated product to be be dangerous for its intended uses, and the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the user is aware of the danger.
The second approach is the more defendant-friendly bare-metal defense that the manufacturers urge here: If a manufacturer did not itself make, sell, or distribute the part or incorporate the part into the product, the manufacturer is not liable for harm caused by the integrated productâeven if the product required incorporation of the part and the manufacturer knew that the integrated product was likely to be dangerous for its intended uses.View Full Point of Law
The defendant manufactures equipment such as pumps, blowers, and turbines for three Navy ships. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts to function. When used on the ships, the equipment released the asbestos fibers into the air. Two Navy veterans who were exposed on the ships developed cancer and died.
Is the defendant liable for negligence due to its failure to warn the plaintiff of the dangers of asbestos?
Yes. The lower court ruling is affirmed.
Justice Gorsuch is in favor of the traditional common law rule. He believes that by spreading liability past the manufacturer of the product itself, the Court is diluting the incentive for a manufacturer to fulfill its duty to warn.
Since this is a ship, it involves maritime law which has recognized common law principles for decades. According to the common law, manufacturers have a duty to warn when it knows or should know that a product is or is likely to be dangerous for the use for which it is supplied, and when the manufacturer has no reason to believe that users will realize the danger. Courts have not yet determined how to apply that duty to warn principle in cases such as this one, where the product required later incorporation of a dangerous part in order for the product to function as intended. In the case of maritime law, the most appropriate approach says that foreseeability that the product may be used with another part that is likely to be dangerous does not trigger a duty to warn, but also that a manufacturer does have a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part known to be dangerous. Mere foreseeability would be too broad, expanding liability too far and overwhelming plaintiffs. The products manufacturer is in a better position than the parts manufacturer to warn the user/consumer, as it understands the dangers of the integrated product better than anyone else.