Maryland Court Discusses the Apparent Manufacturer Doctrine in Asbestos Case

In a recent decision, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland reviewed an asbestos case involving the death of an employee from mesothelioma. In Stein v. Pfizer, Inc. (Md. Ct. Spec. App. May 31, 2016), the employee worked as a bricklayer, using asbestos-containing cement in completing projects for his employer. After the employee’s death, his family and estate brought negligence and other liability claims against several defendants, including the parent company of the cement product’s manufacturer, alleging that it was an apparent manufacturer and therefore liable for the illness and death of the employee.asbestos

In Stein, the estate argued that the defendant held itself out as a manufacturer of the asbestos-containing cement because its trademark was in advertisements and promotional materials for the product. The defendant argued that it was a separate corporation from its subsidiary, that none of the manufacturer’s employees held positions with the defendant, and that only a few of the defendant’s employees sat on the manufacturer’s board of directors. The defendant’s motion for summary judgment was granted by the trial court, which found that, under all of the circumstances, a reasonable person could not conclude from the documents that the defendant was the manufacturer of the product at issue. The plaintiffs appealed the decision.

The Court of Special Appeals examined the history and case law pertaining to the apparent manufacturer doctrine, which holds a non-manufacturer liable for a defective product based on its conduct. The court went on to note that there are three tests for determining whether an entity may be found to be an apparent manufacturer, although Maryland case law does not specify which test is to be applied. Nevertheless, the court concluded that under all three tests, the defendant would not be deemed an apparent manufacturer of the asbestos-containing cement.

Under the objective reliance test, the court considers whether a reasonable consumer would have relied upon a label or the advertising materials of a product in purchasing it. In Stein, the court found that since the asbestos-containing cement was not a consumer product, and since the employer is a sophisticated business that would have known it was not purchasing the cement from the defendant, it was not reasonable for the defendant to be deemed an apparent manufacturer. Similarly, under the actual reliance test, a plaintiff must prove that he or she actually and reasonably relied upon the reputed apparent manufacturer’s trademark, reputation, or assurances of product quality in purchasing the defective product at issue. Although the plaintiff in Stein was not the purchaser, the court found that there was no reliance on the part of the plaintiff or the employer sufficient to deem the defendant an apparent manufacturer.

Finally, under the enterprise liability test, the question is whether the defendant participated substantially in the design, manufacture, or distribution of the defective product at issue, provided that the defendant’s trademark appeared on that product. In Stein, however, the court noted that there was no trademark licensing agreement between the defendant and its subsidiary-manufacturer. The court also held that there was no evidence that the defendant participated substantially in the design, manufacture, or distribution of the product. As a result, the trial court’s decision granting summary judgment in favor of the defendant was affirmed.

No matter how complex the case, the skilled attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. have the experience and resources necessary to bring your personal injury claim. We help Maryland plaintiffs pursue compensation from negligent parties in medical malpractice cases, car accidents, premises liability claims, and more. Schedule a consultation with Foran & Foran, P.A. by phone at (301) 441-2022 or online.

More Blog Posts:

Plaintiff Wins Appeal in Maryland Lead Paint Case, Summary Judgment Reversed, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 4, 2015

Maryland Court Rules Asbestos Defendants May Be Liable for Failure to Warn About Replacement Parts, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published March 19, 2016