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Can manufacturers be held responsible for third-party components?

The New Jersey Supreme Court recently determined that, in certain situations, it does not matter if a third party made an asbestos-containing part or not. Manufacturers and distributors that fail to warn users about the hazards of their products or the hazards of third-party replacement parts can be held strictly liable.

This decision is similar to decisions made in other courts, including the United States Supreme Court, The New York Court of Appeals and the Maryland Court of Appeals.

How was New Jerseys decision made?

A man who worked as a plumber and a car mechanic for 40 years filed a lawsuit against seven manufacturers, alleging that his mesothelioma was caused by inhaling asbestos dust while working on the defendants’ products. During that time, he often replaced components that contained asbestos made by the manufacturers with additional parts that also contained asbestos made by third parties.

The man aimed to hold the manufacturers accountable for failing to warn him of the risks of their products and the required replacement components for their products. The third-party manufacturers and distributors were not named as defendants in the lawsuit.

The manufacturers argued that they did not have a duty to warn people about parts manufactured by others. They also pointed out that the man could not definitively prove that it was the asbestos in their products, not the asbestos in the third-party replacement products, that lead to his illness.

However, the man argued that it did not matter if the asbestos exposure caused his health condition in an original part or a replacement part because both contained asbestos. He also argued that the defendants' products required asbestos-containing parts to function, so when those parts age or fail, they must be replaced by other asbestos-containing parts.

What is required to hold manufacturers and distributors accountable?

To hold a manufacturer or distributor accountable, someone must be able to prove several factors. These include:

  • The manufacturer or distributor used asbestos-containing components in their product
  • The asbestos-containing component was necessary for the product to function
  • Proper maintenance of the product required replacing the asbestos-containing component with a replacement that also contained asbestos
  • The asbestos exposure from the original and/or replacement component was a major factor in causing or worsening someone’s disease

Asbestos is the only known cause of mesothelioma, and asbestos exposure is often preventable. The state someone lives in can affect their ability to hold manufacturers and distributors responsible for their failure to warn against third-party replacement parts for their products. However, the New Jersey Supreme Court’s recent decision may make it a little easier for New Jersey residents with asbestos-related diseases to get the justice they deserve.

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