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Supreme Court extends rules on asbestos warnings

What happens when a company makes a product that is, in itself, asbestos-free — but requires a part made from asbestos in order to function?

Well, in the past, the people using those products mostly had no idea that they were in danger from the asbestos fibers coming from the added parts. Those people were, largely, in the Navy.

At least two of those people, now veterans of the Navy, went on to develop cancer that has been related to their exposure to asbestos from the parts added to the machines they were required to use. They and their spouses sued the manufacturers of the equipment, claiming that the manufacturers were negligent for not warning the veterans that the fully-functioning and integrated product (in other words, the actual equipment as it was designed to operate) contained asbestos. That left them unaware of the danger they were in from the asbestos exposure and unable to take appropriate precautions for their own safety.

The manufacturers, naturally, claimed that they didn’t have a responsibility to issue a warning. They relied on a “bare-metal defense,” which basically said that even though they designed a product that was meant to work with another product made from asbestos, their own product was asbestos-free. They didn’t feel that they should be liable to issue a warning about the potential harm caused by the third-party parts used with their machinery.

The Supreme Court disagreed. The Court held that “a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses,” particularly when there’s no real reason to think that the intended users of that product will somehow be aware of their danger.

This is an important victory for people who have suffered asbestos exposure from third-party parts that were always intended to be part of an integrated product because it opens up the potential of a broader lawsuit against more manufacturers. The money gained from these kinds of lawsuits can help compensate victims and provide for their families. For more information, contact an experienced Tennessee attorney.


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