E-Alert Case Updates
No liability for boiler manufacturer for third-party gaskets on Navy ships
May v. Air & Liquid Systems Corp. etc.
Available at: http://www.mdcourts.gov/opinions/cosa/2014/2670s12.pdf
May was a former United States Navy machinist mate, who had worked in seven Navy ships over a 20-year time span, though he never served on the maiden voyage of any ship. During that time, he assisted in the maintenance of the boiler system, including the maintenance and replacement of the various boiler gaskets, which allegedly contained asbestos. In 2012, May was diagnosed with a malignant pleural mesothelioma. In March 2012, May and his wife filed suit against numerous defendants, including the manufacturers of the steam pumps on the ships on which he served (collectively “Manufacturer Defendants”). At the close of discovery, the Circuit Court dismissed the Manufacturer Defendants, on the grounds that they had no duty to warn of the dangers of the asbestos-containing replacement parts that they neither manufactured nor placed into the stream of commerce. The Mays noted a timely appeal.
The Court of Special Appeals noted that the case of Ford Motor Co., v. Wood, 19 Md. App. 1, 34 cert. denied, 394 Md. 494 (1998) was controlling. In Wood, the Court of Special Appeals held that the Plaintiff had not demonstrated that the plaintiff was exposed to Ford’s brakes and clutch products, because the vehicle on which the plaintiff worked did not contain the original equipment manufacturer (“OEM”) brakes and clutches. Wood, 19 Md. App. at 30-33. The Wood court also rejected the argument that Ford had an obligation to warn of the dangers involved in replacing the asbestos-containing brakes and clutches regardless of manufacturer. The Court acknowledged that since Wood, numerous other jurisdictions had adopted its rationale and dismissed claims on similar grounds. The Court held that in this case, similar to the plaintiff in Wood, May had only ever been exposed to replacement gaskets, not the OEM gaskets shipped with the boiler. Further, there was no evidence that those gaskets were manufactured or put into the stream of commerce by the Manufacturer Defendants.
The Court also rejected Mays’ argument that the Manufacturer Defendants had a duty to warn of the dangers associated with replacing the gaskets because the danger was “foreseeable.” Foreseeability, while a necessary part of imposing liability was insufficient without the existence of a duty. The Court again relied upon Wood rejecting a manufacturer’s duty to warn of the risks of being exposed to asbestos fibers from replacement parts, manufactured and sold by third parties.
The Court finally rejected a number of arguments raised by May to overturn the lower court’s ruling, including that the manufacturers had a continuing duty to provide post-sale warning and that the boiler was defective because it operated so hot that it caused the gaskets to degrade. The Court dismissed each argument on the basis that without an initial duty to warn, there could not be an ongoing duty to warn, and the purpose and operation of the boiler in heat transfer precluded any argument that “high heat” was a defect.
The court affirmed summary judgment in favor of the Manufacturer Defendants.
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