“Companies are not insurers against harm from products they never manufactured or sold. The appeals court decision upends longstanding New Jersey products-liability law, exposing manufacturers to near absolute-liability.”
—Marc Robertson, WLF Staff Attorney
(Washington, DC)—Washington Legal Foundation filed an amicus curiae brief with the Supreme Court of New Jersey today, urging the court to reverse the Appellate Division’s decision on a manufacturer’s duty to warn of asbestos dangers in third-party replacement parts.
In Whelan v. A.O. Smith Corp., the Supreme Court of New Jersey has the opportunity to address conflicting appeals court decisions and determine whether manufacturers have a duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos in replacement parts they neither made nor sold.
The plaintiff seeks to hold the defendants strictly liable for failing to warn him of the dangers of asbestos in replacement parts that were later added to the defendants’ original products. The Appellate Division held that manufacturers have a duty to warn of the dangers of asbestos in replacement parts made by third parties if the original product contained asbestos and the manufacturer is reasonably aware that routine periodic maintenance of the product will require the replacement of those components with other asbestos-containing parts.
In its brief, WLF explains that New Jersey has a unique strict products-liability law. A manufacturer is conclusively presumed to know of asbestos dangers associated with its own products. A duty to warn arises regardless of whether the manufacturer is aware of those dangers, and the manufacturer may not rely on the defenses of state-of-the-art or “unknowability” to dispute the claim. New Jersey’s strict-liability rule is based on policy considerations that seek to best allocate the costs of the injuries resulting from a product’s use, rather than litigating what a defendant knew and when the defendant knew it.
The Appellate Division’s decision greatly expands New Jersey’s rule by imputing knowledge of the dangers of third-party asbestos to the defendant. If adopted, this new rule could impose no-fault, absolute liability on any company with even the slightest connection to asbestos-containing products, WLF asserts.
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