California Supreme Court to hear appeal of asbestos supplier’s duty to warn in pipefitter’s mesothelioma lawsuit

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by Jim Orr

The California Supreme Court has agreed to hear a case that involves whether the supplier of raw asbestos to a pipe manufacturer has a duty to warn them about the health risks of asbestos exposure. The case involves a worker who was diagnosed with mesothelioma after being exposed to asbestos contained in the pipes. See Webb v. Special Electric Co. Inc., No. S209927 (Cal. 2013)

William Webb was a pipefitter who worked with pipes manufactured by the Johns-Manville Corporation. The pipes were manufactured with raw asbestos that was supplied to Johns-Manville by Special Electric Co., Inc. After he was diagnosed with mesothelioma, Webb filed a lawsuit against Special Electric and other companies, alleging that the raw asbestos supplied to Johns-Manville by the company caused his disease. Prior to the trial, Webb agreed to a settlement with some of the corporations named in his lawsuit. At trial, Webb was awarded a $5 million verdict for lost earnings and non-economic damages against Special Electric, Johns-Manville and other defendants.

Following the verdict, Special Electric filed motions for nonsuit and directed verdict, which argued that it had no duty to warn Johns-Manville about the dangers of asbestos exposure because they were known to the company from its long history of handling asbestos-containing products. The trial court agreed with those arguments, finding that an experienced user of dangerous products like asbestos does not need to be warned about its dangers.

Webb’s attorneys filed an appeal in the California Court of Appeal’s Second Appellate District, and the appellate court reversed the lower court’s ruling. The court found that while Johns-Manville needed no warnings from Special Electric about the dangers of asbestos exposure, Special Electric had a duty to warn ordinary consumers such as Webb about the hazards of asbestos because they would more than likely be unaware of its dangers:

We do not hold that an asbestos-supplier’s duty to warn users of its asbestos cannot be obviated by proof that the users needed no warning, or that its duty may not be discharged by a showing of reasonable efforts to provide warnings, or by reasonable reliance upon others to do so. The effect of the trial court’s ruling was to hold that—as a matter of law—Special Electric had no duty to warn foreseeable users of the dangers of its asbestos, even though Special Electric knew or should have known that those foreseeable users would be unaware of the dangers.

The conclusion that Special Electric had no such duty, or that its duty was discharged as a matter of law, is unjustified by the law and is contrary to the record in this case.

Id. at 903.

The California Supreme Court overturned the appellate court’s ruling and granted a review of both the substantive and procedural aspects of Webb’s lawsuit. Opening briefs in the case were due before the court by July 12, but lawyers for Special Electric have asked for an extension until September 10.

Heygood, Orr & Pearson and asbestos litigation

Millions of American workers were unknowingly exposed for decades to the health risks of asbestos without being warned by their employers about the dangers of the products they used on a daily basis. Besides mesothelioma, exposure to asbestos can increase an individual’s risk of asbestosis, lung cancer, pleural diseases, and other types of cancer or respiratory illness. Individuals who worked with asbestos pipes, brake pads, insulation used in the construction industry, or U.S. Navy and Merchant Marines that were outfitted with asbestos parts may be eligible to file a personal injury lawsuit and seek compensation for the injuries they suffered as a result of their asbestos exposure.

At the law firm of Heygood, Orr & Pearson, we have achieved settlements or verdicts for our clients totaling hundreds of millions of dollars. In 2010 alone, we negotiated wrongful death and personal injury settlements totaling more than $50 million. Our firm has the financial resources to handle asbestos injury and death cases from beginning to end. In many cases, we have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars in a single case in order to bring it to trial. Above all, we are committed to achieving justice for our clients, no matter the cost.

If you or a loved one have been serious injured due to asbestos exposure, contact our law firm for a free legal consultation about your case. You can reach us by calling our toll-free number at 1-877-446-9001, or by completing the free case evaluation form located above you on this page.