Plaintiff brought a products liability suit after allegedly contracting asbestosis and other lung ailments through exposure to defendants’ products.
Actual or constructive knowledge of a potential risk or danger is a component of strict liability for failure to warn.
Carl Anderson (plaintiff) was an electrician who worked on a shipyard from 1941 to 1976. Anderson worked in the vicinity of people who removed and installed insulation products aboard ships. In 1984, Anderson filed a strict products liability suit against Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corporation (“Owens-Corning”) (defendants). He alleged that he contracted asbestosis and other lung ailments through exposure to Owens-Corning’s products at the shipyard. The trial court granted a verdict in favor of Owens-Corning. However, the trial court then granted a new trial. On appeal, the parties argued on appeal the issue of admissibility of state-of-the-art evidence.
Whether a defendant in a strict products liability action based upon an alleged failure to warn of a risk of harm may present state-of-the-art evidence?
Yes, a defendant in a strict products liability action based upon an alleged failure to warn of a risk of harm may present state-of-the-art evidence. The judgment of the appellate court is affirmed with instructions that the matter be remanded to the trial court for further proceedings.
Strict liability was never intended to be absolute liability nor was this liability intended make a manufacturer of a product its insurer. Therefore, imposing a knowledge requirement would be repugnant to strict liability principles. It is impossible to warn someone of something that is unknowable. This court adopts the requirement acknowledged by both the majority of jurisdictions and the Restatement (Second) of Torts, which is that knowledge or knowability is a component of strict liability for failure to warn. Accordingly, Owens-Corning may present evidence of the state of the art, or evidence that the risk of asbestos was neither known nor knowable given the scientific knowledge at the time. Anderson’s contention that imposing a knowledge or knowability component would improperly infuse a negligence standard into strict liability is unpersuasive. Strict liability is a judicial creation that blends and incorporates some rules from the law of negligence. This court’s conclusion accords with precedent and considerations of public policy.