Products Liability: Replacement Parts

By on November 19, 2009 - Comments off

O’Neil v. Crane Co., (Second District, September 18, 2009), 99 Cal.Rptr.3d 533, 09 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 12,021, 2009 Daily Journal D.A.R. 13,945

The widow and children of a naval officer who died of mesothelioma as a result of being exposed to asbestos while working on an aircraft carrier, filed a wrongful death action against the manufacturers of valves and pumps which contained asbestos and which had been installed on naval vessels. The plaintiffs alleged that the decedent had been exposed to asbestos-containing insulation and packing material in the pumps, which released toxic fibers during routine use of the products when the packing was replaced.

The defendants filed a motion for non-suit, arguing, inter alia, that at the time of the decedent’s exposure, the original asbestos-containing parts had been replaced with new parts, and that the plaintiffs had not attempted to prove that the replacement insulation and packing had been purchased from the defendants.

The trial court granted the motion for non-suit but the court of appeal reversed, holding that under the circumstances, the manufacturers could still be liable even if the original components had been replaced:

“Under these principles, respondents would clearly be liable to a sailor who was injured as a result of exposure to the asbestos-containing packing and insulation they supplied with their pumps and valves. Respondents do not contend otherwise. Instead, they seek a different result because O’Neil was injured not by the original packing and insulation, but by replacement parts. In support, they cite cases which do not consider a manufacturer’s liability for the components of its products, or for replacement parts, or the kind of interdependent products (valves and pumps along with their insulation and packing) which this case presents. We see nothing in these cases which would cut off respondents’ responsibility for failure to warn or design defect, at the point in time at which their products were subject to predictable and ordinary maintenance or repair.
. . .
In contrast, respondents incorporated asbestos-containing products into their own products, which needed the asbestos-containing products in order to function. The injury was caused by the operation of respondents’ products with replacement products which had the same dangerous propensities as the original parts. Respondents’ cases do not address that situation. Other cases do. Under those cases, respondents can be held strictly liable for injury caused by dust emanating from replacement asbestos. We believe that that is the correct rule.
. . .
[A] manufacturer is liable in strict liability for the dangerous components of its products, and for dangerous products with which its product will necessarily be used. That was appellants’ evidence; that respondents incorporated asbestos-containing products into their products and knew those products would over time be replaced with the same kind of product, and that the products were defective because they required asbestos packing and insulation, and because they had no appropriate warnings. We can see no relevance to the fact that the injury was caused by the operation of its product in conjunction with a replacement part which is no different than the original. If respondents had warned the hypothetical original user, or protected that person by avoiding defective design, subsequent users, too, would have been protected.”

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