This will be an odd post for us – a research-heavy discussion that doesn’t cite to drug/medical device case law.  However, the nonsensical “innovator liability” is a clear and present danger. Generic drug plaintiffs, refugees from generic preemption, are looking for any deep pocket to sue, no matter how contrary to existing law and the economic justifications for product liability.  Thus they continue to peddle this jurisprudential snake oil. Defense counsel need every available arrow in their quivers to combat its possible spread.  

Today we discuss asbestos “bare metal” cases.  In asbestos-land widespread bankruptcy of asbestos manufacturers has had much the same effect as preemption is having in generic drug product liability litigation.  Thus, most major manufacturers of asbestos-containing products can’t be sued.  In addition to searching for minor actual manufacturers, asbestos plaintiffs have also turned to suing manufacturers of products that don’t contain asbestos at all.  These defendants made turbines, boilers, engines, pumps, valves – you name it.  None of these products contained asbestos when sold.  They were simply “bare metal.”  However, purchasers of these products attached various asbestos-containing products to them, such as insulation or gaskets, which helped the products run better and/or longer.

While those parts were made by others (usually harder to identify), the asbestos plaintiffs claim it was “foreseeable” to the bare metal equipment manufacturers that these other products would be added.  Some products, plaintiffs claim, couldn’t be operated at all without the addition of asbestos-containing components.  Because third-party addition of asbestos-containing components was “foreseeable,” these asbestos plaintiffs allege that bare metal defendants had a duty to warn about that risks from addition of other products that those defendants never made.

Sound familiar?  It should.  That’s the same duty-to-warn-about-anything-that’s-foreseeable argument that’s at the core of innovator liability claims.  In both cases defendants are being sued for not warning about foreseeable risks of products that they didn’t make and didn't sell.

We first recognized the parallelism back in early 2012, when the California Supreme Court decided O’Neil v. Crane Co., 266 P.3d 987 (Cal. 2012).  The asbestos plaintiffs made the same foreseeability uber alles argument in O’Neil that was the basis of the adverse innovator liability decision in Conte v. Wyeth, Inc., 85 Cal. Rptr.3d 299 (Cal. App. 2008).  As we gleefully reported, that argument was shot down in flames in O’Neil.

Our next brush with bare metal asbestos cases was in last year’s “Innovator Liability at 100” post.  In celebrating the 100th judicial rejection of innovator liability, we prepared a 50-state survey, and in some of the states we occasionally included favorable asbestos bare metal cases, where they happened to show up in our research.  Therefore we included O’Neil.  We also included cases in Georgia and Washington.

Well, we recently had an opportunity to look at bare metal asbestos cases in more detail.  Since they raise – and widely reject – the same foreseeability-based arguments that are advanced in innovator liability, we’re providing our readers with a reasonably comprehensive list of favorable precedent (a few cases go the other way, but we don’t do the other side’s research for them).  Not all of these cases will be worth citing, depending on the state, but in states where there much other precedent to cite, we think they could be useful.  Here’s the list:

First, there are scads of favorable bare metal cases under maritime law, since lots of claimed asbestos exposure happened on board ships.  We’re not citing them all, only the best.  SeeLindstrom v. A-C Prod. Liability Trust, 424 F.3d 488, 495-97 (6th Cir. 2005); Stark v. Armstrong World Industries, Inc., 21 F. App’x 371, 381 (6th Cir. 2001); Nelson v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp.,2014 WL 6982476, at *12 (W.D. Wash. Dec. 9, 2014); Vedros v. Northrop Grumman Shipbuilding, Inc., 2014 WL 1093678, at *2-3 (E.D. La. March 14, 2014); Crews v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp., 2014 WL 639685, at *5 (N.D.N.Y. Feb. 18, 2014); Cabasug v. Crane Co., 989 F. Supp. 2d 1027, 1034 (D. Haw. 2013); Various Plaintiffs v. Various Defendants, 856 F. Supp. 2d 703, 712 (E.D. Pa. 2012); Conner v. Alfa Laval, Inc., 842 F. Supp. 2d 791, 797 (E.D. Pa. 2012); In re Asbestos Products Liability Litigation  (No. VI), 2011 WL 346822, at *6 (E.D. Pa. Jan. 13, 2011), adopted, 2011 WL 359696 (E.D. Pa. Feb. 3, 2011); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2012 WL 1409011, at *6 (Del. Super. April 2, 2012); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2011 WL 2462569, at *2-3 (Del. Super. June 7, 2011).

Individual jurisdictions with favorable “bare metal” precedent are:

Alabama:  Given Weeks, it doesn’t matter, but bare metal liability was rejected in Morgan v. Bill Vann Co., 969 F. Supp. 2d 1358, 1364-67 (S.D. Ala. 2013).

California:  O’Neil v. Crane Co., 266 P.3d 987, 991 (Cal. 2012);Paulus v. Crane Co., 69 Cal. Rptr.3d 373, 379 (Cal. App. 2014);Taylor v. Elliott Turbomachinery Co., 90 Cal. Rptr.3d 414, 425 (Cal. App. 2009).  See also Garman v. Magic Chef, Inc., 173 Cal. Rptr. 20, 22-23 (Cal. App. 1981) (same principle in non-asbestos case); McGoldrick v. Porter-Cable Tools, 110 Cal. Rptr. 481, 482 (Cal. App. 1973) (same); In re Deep Vein Thrombosis, 356 F. Supp.2d 1055, 1062-63 (N.D. Cal. 2005) (same).

Connecticut:  Abate v. AAF-McQuay, Inc., 2013 WL 812066, at *3 (Conn. Super. Jan. 29, 2013); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2012 WL 1415709, at *1 (Del. Super. March 2, 2012) (applying Connecticut law); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2011 WL 379327, at *1 (Del. Super. Jan. 19, 2011) (applying Connecticut law).

Delaware:  In re Asbestos Litigation, 2013 WL 4493568, at *2 (Del. Super. Aug. 19, 2013); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2011 WL 5340597, at *1 (Del. Super. Oct. 5, 2011); Bernhardt v. Ford Motor Co., 2010 WL 3005580, at *1 (Del. Super. July 30, 2010);Wilkerson v. American Honda Motor Co., 2008 WL 162522, at *2 (Del. Super. Jan. 17, 2008).

Florida:  Faddish v. Buffalo Pumps, 881 F. Supp.2d 1361, 1372-73 (S.D. Fla. 2012).

Georgia:  Toole v. Georgia-Pacific, LLC, 2011 WL 7938847, at *7 (Ga. App. Jan. 19, 2011); Thurmon v. A.W. Chesterton, Inc., ___ F. Supp.3d ___, 2014 WL 6621262, at *3-5 (N.D. Ga. Nov. 21, 2014); Reed v. American Steel & Wire Corp., 2014 WL 3674678, at *2 (Ga. Super. July 21, 2014).

Idaho:  In re Asbestos Litigation, 2011 WL 322674, at *1-2 (Del. Super. Jan. 18, 2011) (applying Idaho law).

Illinois:  Niemann v. McDonnell Douglas Corp., 721 F. Supp. 1019, 1030 (S.D. Ill. 1989).

Maryland:  May v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp., 100 A.3d 1283, 1293 (Md. App. 2014); Ford Motor Co. v. Wood, 703 A.2d 1315, 1332 (Md. App. 1998), abrogated on other groundsJohn Crane, Inc. v. Scribner, 800 A.2d 727 (Md. 2002); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2012 WL 1996533, at *2 (Del. Super. June 1, 2012) (applying Maryland law).

Massachusetts:  Whiting v. CBS Corp., 982 N.E.2d 1224 (Mass. App. 2013); Dombrowski v. ALFA Laval, Inc., 2010 WL 4168848 (Mass. Super. July 1, 2010); In re Asbestos Litigation, 2012 WL 1694442, at *1 (Del. Super. May 14, 2012) (applying Massachusetts law).

Minnesota:  Nelson v. 3M Co., 2011 WL 3983257 (Minn. 2d Dist. Aug. 16, 2011).

Maine:  Richards v. Armstrong International, Inc., 2013 WL 1845826, at *4 (Me. B.C.D. Jan. 25, 2013); Rumery v. Garlock Sealing Technologies, Inc., 2009 WL 1747857 (Me. Super. April 24, 2009).

Mississippi:  Dalton v. 3M Co., 2013 WL 4886658, at *10 (D. Del. Sept. 12, 2013) (applying Mississippi law), adopted, 2013 WL 5486813 (D. Del. Oct. 1, 2013).

New Jersey:  Hughes v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 89 A.3d 179, 190 (N.J. Super. A.D. 2014); Robinson v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp., 2014 WL 3673030, at *1 (D.N.J. July 23, 2014).

New York:  Kiefer v. Crane Co., 2014 WL 6778704, at *5 (S.D.N.Y. Feb. 3, 2014); Surre v. Foster Wheeler LLC, 831 F. Supp.2d 797, 801 (S.D.N.Y. 2011).

North Carolina:  Harris v. Ajax Boiler, Inc., 2014 WL 3101941, at *5-6 (W.D.N.C. July 7, 2014).

Ohio:  Alexander v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 2014 WL 7190244, at *3 (Ohio C.P. July 23, 2014); Roberts. v. Adience, Inc., 2014 WL 7190246, at *2 (Ohio C.P.March 4, 2014) (same).

Oregon:  In re Asbestos Litigation, 2012 WL 1415706 (Del. Super. Feb. 28, 2012) (applying Oregon law).

Rhode Island:  Henry v. American Honda Motor Co., 2014 WL 6910490, at *7 (D.R.I. Dec. 3, 2014).

Pennsylvania:  Montoney v. Cleaver-Brooks, Inc., 2012 WL 359523 (Pa. C.P. Jan. 5, 2012); Kolar v. Buffalo Pumps Inc., 15 Pa. D. & C.5th 38, 45-49 (Pa. C.P. 2010).

South Carolina:  Sparkman v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 2014 WL 7369494, at *7-8 (D.S.C. Dec. 29, 2014).

Texas:  Nolen v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 2004 WL 5047437 (Tex. Dist. July 26, 2004); Nolen v. A.W. Chesterton Co., 2004 WL 5047438 (Tex. Dist. Aug. 11, 2004).

Utah:  In re Asbestos Litigation, 2012 WL 1408982, at *3 (Del. Super. Apr. 2, 2012) (applying Utah law).

Washington:  Braaten v. Saberhagen Holdings, 198 P.3d 493, 497-504 (Wash. 2008); Simonetta v. Viad Corp., 197 P.3d 127, 131-38 (Wash. 2008); Yankee v. APV N. America, Inc., 262 P.3d 515, 520-21 (Wash. App. 2011).

Some of these probably won’t be worth citing, like the two trial court cases from Texas, given all the existing favorable Texas precedent, but we’ll cite them so our side knows that we’re being comprehensive.  Every little bit helps, given how potentially dangerous innovator liability could be.