California Supreme Court Upholds Product Liability Precedent That Defendants Are Not Liable for Harm Caused by Other Defendant’s Products

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On January 12, 2012, the California Supreme Court held that a product manufacturer cannot be held liable under the theories of strict liability or negligence for harm caused by another manufacturer’s product, unless the defendant’s own product substantially contributed to the harm, or the defendant substantially participated in creating a harmful combined use of the products. O’Neil v. Crane Co., et al., S177401, slip op. (Cal. Jan. 12, 2012). Following this important products liability decision, it is questionable whether Conte will survive. See Conte v. Wyeth, Inc., 168 Cal. App. 4th 89 (Cal. 2008).

During World War II, naval ships were built in conformance with certain government specifications, including those that mandated the use of asbestos for its insulating properties. 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, a fatal cancer of the lining of the lung caused by asbestos exposure, 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.

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