One of the most frustrating legal issues that mesothelioma victims face is the idea that a company could avoid liability for asbestos exposure if the asbestos came from replacement parts needed to make their equipment operate, rather than from the original equipment that they had manufactured. Now, in an appeal brought by the family of a man who died of the rare form of cancer, a three-judge panel in the state of New Jersey has discarded that argument: the court ruled that manufacturers have a duty to warn about the risk of asbestos exposure from asbestos-containing replacement parts, even if they neither made nor distributed those parts
The case involved Arthur Whelan, a mesothelioma victim who was a commercial plumber and auto mechanic who specialized in cleaning boilers. Whelan worked at his craft between 1952 and 1996, and throughout that time he was exposed to numerous boilers that used asbestos in their replacement parts. When he was diagnosed with the asbestos-related disease in 2008, he filed suit against several defendants who made the boilers, as well as valves, steam traps and brake drums. Though the companies acknowledged that the replacement parts for their equipment contained asbestos and that they would be used in routine maintenance on their products, but they filed a motion for summary judgment arguing that they had no duty to warn because the asbestos-containing replacement products had not been theirs or distributed by them. A lower court judge agreed with them and dismissed the case against them, but the appellate division judges reversed that decision, writing, “We conclude that a duty to warn exists when the manufacturer’s product contains asbestos components, which are integral to the function of the product, and the manufacturer is aware that routine periodic maintenance of the product will require the replacement of the components with other asbestos-containing products.” The judges said that the duty to warn was not too great a burden for the manufacturers, and that the replacement of asbestos-containing parts with other asbestos-containing parts is entirely foreseeable to the manufacturer.
This decision represents a victory for those who have been sickened with mesothelioma by an asbestos-contaminated part. If you or someone you love has been affected by asbestos and you need information about the options and resources available to you, contact the Patient Advocates at Mesothelioma.net today at 1-800-692-8608.