Maryland Court Rules Asbestos Defendants May Be Liable for Failure to Warn About Replacement Parts

The Maryland Court of Appeals recently published an important opinion that will have consequences for future asbestos litigation and personal injury claims. In a victory for asbestos plaintiffs, the court’s ruling in May v. Air & Liquid Sys. Corp. (Md. Dec. 18, 2015) found that in limited circumstances, a manufacturer has a duty to warn workers of asbestos-containing third-party replacement component parts under theories of negligence and strict liability.

In May, the plaintiff replaced asbestos gaskets and packing while in the United States Navy from 1956 until 1976, which exposed him to airborne asbestos fibers. However, he was not exposed to the asbestos gaskets and packing that the defendants used, but to asbestos-containing replacement parts acquired from third parties. It is undisputed that the instruction manuals did not contain any warnings regarding the danger of inhaling asbestos dust or directions to wear protective gear. In January 2012, the plaintiff learned he was suffering from mesothelioma, a form of cancer that is commonly caused by asbestos exposure. The plaintiff initially filed suit against the defendants, and his wife continued the action upon his death. The defendants moved for summary judgment, contending that they had no duty to warn of the dangers of third-party asbestos-containing replacement parts that they did not manufacture or place into the stream of commerce. The trial court granted the motion in favor of the defendants, and Court of Special Appeals affirmed.

In Maryland, failure to warn claims may be brought under a negligence or strict liability theory. Negligence claims require a showing of a duty of care owed by the defendant to the plaintiff. In determining the existence of a duty, the court considers many factors, including the foreseeability of harm to the plaintiff, the degree of certainty that the plaintiff suffered the injury, the closeness of the connection between the defendant’s conduct and the injury suffered, the moral blame attached to the defendant’s conduct, the policy of preventing future harm, the extent of the burden to the defendant, and others.

In May, the Court of Appeals balanced all of the above factors, noting that in negligence cases involving personal injury, the principal determinant of duty is foreseeability. The court concluded that the duty to warn exists in the limited circumstances in which (1) a manufacturer’s product contains asbestos components, and no safer material is available; (2) asbestos is a critical part of the pump sold by the manufacturer; (3) periodic maintenance involving handling asbestos gaskets and packing is required; and (4) the manufacturer knows or should know of the risks from exposure to asbestos. Under the facts of the case, the court found in favor of the plaintiffs, holding that summary judgment on the plaintiff’s negligent failure to warn claims was inappropriate.

Strict liability as a basis for a products liability claim in Maryland provides that a party that sells any product in a defective condition that is unreasonably dangerous to the user or consumer is subject to liability if the seller is engaged in the business of selling such a product, and it is expected to and does reach the user or consumer without a substantial change in the condition in which it is sold.

In May, the court explained that due to the intersections between strict liability and negligent failure to warn claims, a manufacturer has a duty to warn in strict liability in the same circumstances as in negligence. That is, a manufacturer will have a duty to warn of asbestos-containing replacement components that it has not placed into the stream of commerce in strict liability under the same four factors as laid out above. As a result, the court ruled that the plaintiffs supplied sufficient evidence to survive a motion for summary judgment.

No matter how complex the litigation, the Maryland attorneys at Foran & Foran, P.A. have the skill and resources required to bring your personal injury claim. We represent plaintiffs in a variety of cases, including car accidents, medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, and more. To learn more about your legal options after an accident, contact Foran & Foran, P.A. 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 of Special Appeals Rules Tobacco and Asbestos Defendants Can Be Joined in Wrongful Death Action, Maryland Personal Injury Blog, published October 2, 2015

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