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Crane Co. held liable for failure to warn of presence of asbestos

This blog has frequently noted the widespread use of asbestos in building materials, insulation products and valve and brake gaskets in North Carolina and elsewhere. The final product, i.e., the product sold to the consumer, may contain asbestos or an asbestos-containing product that was provided or manufactured by another company. Courts have been required to decide who is liable in these instances - the original supplier of the asbestos or the manufacturer of the final product.

A recent decision by the New York Court of Appeals (the state's highest court) held that the manufacturer of the final product has a duty to warn users of the presence of asbestos. The manufacturer is, therefore, liable for damages to people who came in contact with the asbestos, regardless of which firm actually made the asbestos. In cases brought by a Navy boiler technician and an ex-pipefitter at General Motors against Crane Co., a steam valve manufacturer, Crane argued that it had not manufactured the asbestos used in its products and had no duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos exposure.

The court rejected this argument, holding instead that "the manufacturer of a product has a duty to warn of the danger arising from the known and reasonably foreseeable use of its product in combination with a third-party product which, as a matter of design, mechanics or economic necessity, is necessary to enable the manufacturer's product to function as intended." In short, the manufacturer of a product that contains asbestos as a necessary component of the product has a legal duty to warn of the presence of asbestos. The failure to provide such a warning gives rise to a claim for damages against the manufacturer.

Anyone who has been exposed to asbestos, either on the job or elsewhere, may wish to obtain a physical examination by a medical provider who is experienced in diagnosing and treating asbestos-related illnesses. If the diagnosis is positive, a consultation with a lawyer who specializes in handling product liability claims can provide a helpful evaluation of the case and estimate of the probability of recovering damages for medical expenses, lost income and pain and suffering.

Source: Insurance Journal, "New York's High Court Rules on Joint Duty to Warn of Asbestos Danger," June 30, 2016

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