Webb v. Special Electric Co., Inc.

Asbestos supplier could not escape strict product liability for worker’s mesothelioma based on the sophisticated user defense as substantial evidence supported the jury’s weighing of the gravity of harm posed by the asbestos, the likelihood the sophisticated user would give required warnings and the feasibility of the supplier’s doing so.  Defendant which supplied crocidolite asbestos to Johns Manville.  Plaintiff who worked at a warehouse that stored and sold Johns Manville-manufactured asbestos-containing pipe developed mesothelioma, a disease caused with particular frequency by exposure to crocidolite (as opposed to chrysotile) asbestos.  The trial court erred in granting defendant JNOV based on the sophisticated intermediary doctrine.  The doctrine absolves a supplier of raw materials or component parts of the duty it would otherwise bear to warn end users of the dangers of its product.  Whether the sophisticated intermediary doctrine supplies a defense depends on what ordinarily are factual issues to be decided by the jury:  the gravity of the harm posed by the product, the likelihood the intermediary will convey the needed warnings to the end users, and the feasibility and effectiveness of the supplier’s giving the warnings directly to end users.  Here, sufficient evidence supported the jury’s verdict against defendant on those three factors.

California Supreme Court (Corrigan, J.; Cantil-Sakauye, C.J., & Chin, J., concurring in part & dissenting in part); May 23, 2016; 2016 WL 2956882

 

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