Key Decisions

May 2012 – Can Be Liable For Manufacturing A Defective Product

(filed under: | May 16, 2012)

The Manufacturer Of A Machine That Causes Asbestos Fibers To Be Released Into The Air Can Be Liable For Manufacturing A Defective Product

Shields v. Hennessy Industries, Inc.
(Cal. Ct. of App., 1st Dist.), filed April 30, 2012 

Leonard Shields worked predominantly as an automobile mechanic. In that role, he was exposed to asbestos resulting in injuries, including asbestosis-related pleural disease and lung cancer. He sued Hennessy Industries on the theory that it manufactured and sold a brake arcing machine, designed and used exclusively for grinding brake linings, which contained asbestos, thereby releasing asbestos fibers into the air.

The trial court ruled that, because Hennessey’s machine itself was not made with asbestos and Hennessy did not itself manufacture or distribute any product made with asbestos, Shields had not, and could not, plead a viable cause of action against Hennessy for negligence or strict products liability.

The Court of Appeal reversed. The court recognized that generally, a manufacturer is not liable for injuries caused by defects in another manufacturer’s products. However, it also recognized an exception when the manufacturer’s products acts upon another manufacturer’s product and thereby causes the harm.

The manufacturer of pumps that use asbestos-containing gaskets is not liable for injuries caused when asbestos fibers from those gaskets is released into the air. However, in contrast to the situation presented by Hennessy’s machine, the pumps did not cause the asbestos fibers to be released into the air. Therefore, Shields had a viable cause of action against Hennessy.