A state Supreme Court has ruled that the manufacturer of respirators designed to protect against asbestos exposure may have a duty to warn users of the potential risks they may encounter while using and maintaining the respirators. The ruling is a departure from several previous decisions stating that manufacturers do not have a duty to warn of the dangers of a product that they do not make, supply or sell.
The case was filed by a shipyard worker who had the duty of cleaning respirators that had were used by other employees to filter asbestos and other harmful substances. During the process of cleaning and maintaining the respirators, the worker was exposed to asbestos, causing him to develop the mesothelioma that ended his life.
In his suit, which is now being litigated by his wife, the worker alleged that the manufacturers of the respirator had a duty to warn him that he could be exposed to asbestos when he cleaned and maintained the respirators. The manufacturers asked the court to dismiss the case, arguing that they did not manufacture the asbestos and that they therefore could not be held responsible for the harm it caused. Specifically, they cited two earlier decisions stating that manufacturers have no duty to warn of the risks of products they do not manufacture or sell.
The Supreme Court did not agree, distinguishing the case from two earlier decisions by stating asbestos exposure was “inherent in the use and maintenance” of the respirators, and that the manufacturers therefore had a duty to warn users of the risks of that exposure.
Source: Legal Newsline, “Wash. SC rules shipyard worker can sue respirator makers,” Jessica M. Karmasek, Aug. 10, 2012
The attorneys at our Illinois law firm help clients determine when and how they were exposed to asbestos, as discussed further on our asbestos exposure page.