California Supreme Court Rules Against Expansion of Asbestos Liability in O’Neil v. Crane

On January 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court ruled in O’Neil v. Crane that a manufacturer may not be held liable for harm caused by another manufacturer’s product:

“Recognizing plaintiffs’ claims would represent an unprecedented expansion of strict products liability. We decline to do so… The broad rule plaintiffs urge would not further the purposes of strict liability. Nor would public policy be served by requiring manufacturers to warn about the dangerous propensities of products they do not design, make, or sell.” O’Neil v. Crane Co., S177401

For your reference, here’s a roundup of commentary and analysis on the decision:

Products Liability Law Ebbs as California Supreme Court Issues Definitive O’Neil Opinion (Sedgwick LLP)

“The California Supreme Court has issued a resounding and conclusive opinion rejecting the surging liability theory that a product manufacturer may be held liable for harmful defects in products made by third parties unless the manufacturer’s own product contributed substantially to the harm, or the manufacturer participated substantially in creating a harmful combined use of the products. The Court’s unanimous opinion in O’Neil v. Crane Co. – issued Thursday – slammed the door on plaintiffs’ attempt to create ‘an unprecedented expansion of strict products liability,’ and reaffirmed the ‘bedrock principle’ that strict liability is premised on harm caused by deficiencies in the defendant’s own product.” Read more»

California Supreme Court Upholds Product Liability Precedent That Defendants Are Not Liable for Harm Caused by Other Defendant’s Products (Morrison & Foerster LLP)

“Patrick O’Neil served in the U.S. Navy and was exposed to asbestos through his duties of supervising enlisted men who repaired equipment in the engine and boiler rooms on naval ships. O’Neil died from mesothelioma … and his family filed a wrongful death complaint claiming that the defendants were strictly liable and negligent based on the companies’ supply of asbestos-containing products to the Navy. Two of the defendants, Crane Co. and Warren Pumps, LLC, manufactured parts that were used on naval ships, and contained asbestos. However, no evidence was presented that the asbestos-containing dust that O’Neil was exposed to came from a product made by either Crane or Warren.” Read more»

State Supreme Court Reverses Dangerous Expansion of Product Liability (Dechert LLP)

“Typically, under California law, manufacturers are strictly liable for injuries caused by their failure to warn of dangers that were known to the scientific community at the time they manufactured and distributed their product. The supreme court has never held that a manufacturer’s duty to warn extends to hazards arising exclusively from other manufacturers’ products. Plaintiff’s alleged exposure to asbestos came from replacement gaskets and packing and external insulation added to defendants’ products long after their installation; there was no dispute that these external and replacement products were made by other manufacturers.” Read more»

Asbestos Alert: California Supreme Court Releases Its Opinion In O’Neil v. Crane Co.: Product Manufacturers Are Not Liable In Strict Liability Or Negligence For Harm Caused By Another’s Product (Low, Ball & Lynch)

“This case represents a major victory for numerous classes of defendants in asbestos litigation. The theory of the case should allow certain defendants to escape strict liability via summary judgment/adjudication… [S]ince many asbestos cases fit a similar fact pattern, this case should be helpful in achieving resolutions of claims favorable to defendants who are charged with liability when a plaintiff or decedent was exposed to asbestos-containing replacement parts or related parts (such as gaskets used to attach product flanges to steam pipe systems) not provided by the product manufacturer.” Read more»


See also: Foreseeability Gets Its Wings Clipped In California (Dechert LLP) 


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