Products Liability: Harm Caused by Other Manufacturer’s Product

By on July 20, 2012 - Comments off

Shields v. Hennessy Industries, (First District, April 13, 2012) 205 Cal.App.4th 782, 140 Cal.Rptr.3d 268, 12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 4809, 2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 5595

Several plaintiffs who suffered from diseases allegedly resulting from work-related asbestos exposure brought personal injury actions against the manufacturer of asbestos brake grinding machines, contending that they had been exposed to asbestos dust released into the air from brake linings during the operation of the machines. Asserting causes of action for negligence and strict liability, the plaintiffs alleged that even though the machines themselves contained no asbestos components, the defendant knew that its machines would be used on asbestos-containing brake linings, thereby creating a hazard to users, and that the defendant should have taken precautions to protect users from exposure to and inhalation of asbestos dust.

The trial court granted the defendant’s motion for judgment on the pleadings and denied leave to amend, finding that because the defendant did not manufacture or distribute any product with asbestos, the plaintiffs could not plead a viable cause of action. However, the court of appeal reversed, holding that the plaintiffs had pleaded viable causes of action for negligence and strict liability:

“These allegations distinguish Hennessy from the defendants in Taylor and O’Neil because the products manufactured by the defendants in those cases were not shown to have caused, created or contributed substantially to the harm of airborne asbestos fibers to which the injured persons in those cases were exposed. . . . The causes of action against Hennessy, accepted as true, allege that it manufactured and distributed a machine that did indeed create or contribute substantially to the exposure to airborne asbestos fibers suffered by the plaintiffs or plaintiffs’ decedent. Nor is liability under these causes of actions precluded under either the “chain of distribution” or the “component parts” doctrines applied in O’Neil and Taylor. Taken as true, the causes of action contend that Hennessy distributed a machine directly to consumers designed only to grind asbestos-containing brake linings, a machine that was defective because its intended operation necessarily released asbestos fibers into the air and was not a machine manufactured for use as a component in another finished product. Unlike defendant’s cigarette lighter analogy, the alleged sole and intended use of the brake arcing machine resulted in the release of contained asbestos particles.
. . .
As summarized by the Supreme Court, “a product manufacturer may not be held liable in strict liability or negligence for harm caused by another manufacturer’s product unless the defendant’s own product contributed substantially to the harm, or the defendant participated substantially in creating a harmful combined use of the products.” . . . We conclude, at this pleading stage, plaintiffs’ allegations in their “Brake Shoe Grinding Machine” causes of action fall within the exception in O’Neil sufficiently to withstand a motion for judgment on the pleadings and allow these cases to go forward on strict liability and liability for negligence.”

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