Co-authored by Brian Gross
After years of inconsistent rulings in the trial and appellate courts, the California Supreme Court recently decided the issue of whether plaintiffs in asbestos litigation may pursue claims against equipment manufacturers for injuries caused by asbestos-containing replacement component parts they neither manufactured nor supplied. For the reasons below, the Court expressly rejected this theory of liability and affirmed judgment in favor of equipment manufacturers Crane Co. and Warren Pumps (O'Neil v. Crane Co., California Supreme Court Case No. S177401).
Procedural History of Case
This opinion originated from a wrongful death personal injury asbestos case first filed in Los Angeles Superior Court. Plaintiffs alleged that the Decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing gaskets, packing, and insulation materials found in or on the Defendants' pump and valve products when Decedent served aboard ship in the United States Navy. Although the evidence demonstrated that Defendants' products incorporated asbestos-containing component parts, it was undisputed that the Defendants did not manufacture or supply the asbestos-containing gaskets and packing actually found in or on the equipment at the time of Decedent's exposure.
At trial, the Superior Court granted Defendants' non-suit motions. In doing so, the Superior Court ruled thatCalifornia's strict liability and negligence law did not support imposition of liability for harm caused by another manufacturer's product. The Second District Court of Appeal reversed the trial court's decision.
California Supreme Court Ruling
On final appeal, the California Supreme Court reversed the Court of Appeal decision and affirmed the trial court judgment in favor of Defendants. In so doing, the Court re-affirmed the general rules that a manufacturer cannot be held strictly liable for defects in another entity's product, and that a manufacturer has no duty to warn of risks arising from another manufacturer's products.
Impact of O’Neil Decision on California Asbestos Litigation Going Forward
The O’Neil decision will likely have a significant impact on asbestos litigation going forward. Although the decision does not entirely eliminate liability for all pump, valve, or other equipment manufacturers, it certainly limits the factual scenarios under which they may be held liable. Accordingly, California asbestos litigation counsel may anticipate the following: