NY Court of Appeals Rules Companies Have a Duty to Warn of Asbestos in Products

Posted on July 5, 2016

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The dangers of asbestos have been recognized for decades. Even so, many workers were unknowingly exposed to the carcinogen even while companies who supplied asbestos-laden products they worked with knew the workers could have lasting health issues if not properly protected. Now, in what is being hailed as the “most significant decision by the Court of Appeals in asbestos litigation” since the 1970s, the New York Court of Appeals has ruled companies have a duty to warn workers of  asbestos in its products.

The NY Court of Appeals was called upon to determine whether Crane Co., manufacturer of valves, was responsible for warning of the asbestos hazards in the use of its product when coupled with a third-party product. According to a decision handed down by the NY Court of Appeals on June 28, the answer is “yes.”

The court ruled:

“The majority holds that a manufacturer has a duty to warn of the danger “arising from the known and reasonably foreseeable use of [a manufacturer’s] product in combination with a third-party product which, as a matter of design, mechanics or economic necessity, is necessary to enable the manufacturer’s product to function as intended.”

The appeal was called upon by Crane Co. in the case of a U.S. Navy boiler technician who maintained naval steam pipe systems was diagnosed with pleural mesothelioma. In a lawsuit, he claimed that Crane had acted negligently in failing to warn him of the hazards of asbestos exposure in the products. Crane Co. supplied high-pressure valves that were designed to be used with a gasket, made by another company, that contained asbestos. In the initial ruling, the jury found Crane 99 percent liable for the man’s cancer and awarded him $32 million in damages.

In a June 28 press release, Crane Co. responded to the decision saying, in part:

“We are disappointed by the Court’s ruling, which is in conflict with those made by courts in other states as well as on the federal level addressing ‘duty to warn’ standards for equipment manufacturers who did not make asbestos products.

Crane Co. never manufactured asbestos-containing products, and it believes that all of its products were safe when used as intended. Consequently, Crane Co. will continue to vigorously defend itself against asbestos cases, consistent with its past practices.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency reports that asbestos is a known human carcinogen, with no safe levels of exposure. Most at-risk for developing mesothelioma are trade workers such as insulators, plumbers and pipefitters, electricians, sheet metal workers, auto mechanics, refinery and factory workers. In other words, the workers who work with gaskets nearly every day on the job. Anytime asbestos is inhaled, a person runs the risk of becoming ill from the mineral.

Asbestos exposure has been linked to lung cancer, mesothelioma and other asbestos-related diseases. Mesothelioma is an aggressive cancer, diagnosed in close to 3,000 Americans each year, that resists treatment and often leads to death within one year of diagnosis.

“This decision reaffirms that, under New York law, product manufacturers have a responsibility to supply products that are safe for their intended use, and those manufacturers that violate the public’s trust will be held accountable for their actions,” said Seth Dymond, partner at Belluck & Fox, in a June 28 Bloomberg BNA article.