Product Liability -- 2016

Suttner v. Crane Co.   (New York Court of Appeals)

Duty to warn about hazards in products made by other manufacturers

Since 1992, New York law has not imposed liability on a manufacturer of a product that itself causes no injury when used in conjunction with another product that does. The only exceptions have been when the manufacturer controls the production of the other product, derives a benefit from its sale, or placed it in the stream of commerce. The courts have revised that proposition in the context of asbestos litigation, and those revisions are the subject of this appeal to New York's highest court.

In this case, the Crane Company made valves, which others subsequently fitted with asbestos-containing materials. A former employee of an automobile component manufacturer claimed exposure to asbestos from repairing valves and secured a judgment against Crane on the theory that Crane should have warned that asbestos was hazardous, even though the company neither installed the asbestos components nor required the use of asbestos to properly operate the valves. The plaintiff secured a $3 million judgment, which was appealed.

The NAM and other business groups filed an amicus brief on June 19, 2015 arguing that New York law does not extend a duty to warn about hazards in other manufacturers' products, and such a policy goes against precedents in many other states and in contexts other than asbestos. Imposing such liability is unsound public policy, and would worsen the asbestos litigation problem.

Unfortunately, the highest court in New York ruled 6/28/16 that "the manufacturer of a product has a duty to warn of the danger arising from the known and reasonably foreseeable use of its product in combination with a third-party product which, as a matter of design, mechanics or economic necessity, is necessary to enable the manufacturer's product to function as intended." It found that for a "durable item designed for continuous use with the other manufacturer's fungible product, which by contrast deteriorates relatively quickly and is designed to be replaced, the manufacturer of the durable product typically is in the best position to guarantee that those who use the two products together will receive a warning . . . ."

Related Documents:
NAM brief  (June 19, 2015)


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