In early June, after an appellate process that lasted six years, the New Jersey Supreme Court published an opinion stating that manufacturers may be found strictly liable for failure to warn of the dangers of their products, including their asbestos-containing components and a third party’s replacement components.
“Our developing common law jurisprudence, guided by principles of public policy and equity, dictates that defendants who manufacture or distribute products that, by their design, require the replacement of asbestos-containing components with other asbestos-containing components during the ordinary life of the product have a duty to give adequate warnings to the ultimate user,” Justice Barry T. Albin wrote in the majority opinion.
The Lanier Law Firm’s Darron Berquist and Shannon Tully served as lead counsel for the plaintiff at the trial court and at each stage of the appellate process. The firm’s Kevin Parker and Megan Waida argued the appeal at the Appellate Division.
The attorneys say the opinion clarifies that manufacturers of products that were designed to use fungible asbestos components, including components manufactured by others, have a duty to warn users of the potential health hazards of exposure regardless of whether the component had been replaced in the course of routine maintenance.
“This ruling confirmed what we argued all along. Manufacturers are in a superior position to provide warnings regarding the health hazards of the asbestos components of their products and responsibility related to the cost of the harm they caused.” said Mr. Berquist.
The court’s opinion revives a product liability case filed by Arthur Whelan, a longtime New Jersey resident who developed mesothelioma because of his exposure to asbestos-containing products — including equipment such as boilers, valves, steam traps and brake drums — manufactured by corporations including Ford Motor Co. and Johnson Controls.
The opinion correctly defines a product as ‘the complete manufactured item as delivered by the manufacturer to the consumer,’” says Ms. Tully. “The court’s opinion represents a commonsense approach to the duty to warn and in large part echoed what courts across the country, including the United State Supreme Court, have already confirmed,” she said.