Do companies have to warn consumers about asbestos?

Recently, Navy sailors in New Jersey sued the makers of equipment that required the use of asbestos-containing parts. The manufacturers argued that their equipment didn’t contain asbestos.

In Air and Liquid Systems Corp v. DeVries (2019), the Supreme Court noted that the manufacturers had a duty to warn consumers about related dangers. This owed to two facts:

  • Their products required the use of parts containing asbestos
  • They knew the use of asbestos in their products could put people at risk

The majority argued that the manufacturers had a duty to warn not only because they knew of the risk, but also because they were in the best position to offer a warning. The court cited studies that showed product manufacturers’ warnings were often more effective than those made by parts manufacturers.

Are manufacturers running out of room to hide?

Manufacturers knew for decades that asbestos could cause Mesothelioma cancer. Despite this knowledge, they continued to require asbestos-containing parts in their products, often without warning consumers. They did this largely to maximize their income, valuing their profits above their concerns for human life. When others have called out these companies for their harmful actions, they have largely looked for ways to distance themselves from the claims.

The recent ruling from the New Jersey Supreme Court suggests these manufacturers may no longer be able to rely on old excuses for products. They can’t say that someone else made the asbestos-containing part needed for their product to run. If they knew their product needed asbestos to function, they knew the risk. If they knew the risk, they had a duty to warn their consumers.

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