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November 2011

Don Willenburg Quoted on Key Upcoming California Supreme Court Product Liability Decision

Don Willenburg, partner in the firm's San Francisco office, was quoted in a November 7 article in The Recorder about a California Supreme Court case to be heard this week, O'Neil v. Crane, that could have enormous impact on both asbestos litigation and product liability law in general. 

The case involves a former naval officer who died as a result of mesothelioma. At issue is whether manufacturers are liable for asbestos-related injuries if their non-asbestos products (metal pumps and valves) were used in conjunction with asbestos-containing products manufactured by a third party (such as gaskets, packing, and insulation). Plaintiff argues that because the manufacturers could foresee that their equipment would be used with asbestos-containing products, they should have warned about the asbestos hazards even though those asbestos-containing products were manufactured and supplied by someone else.

The article cites an amicus brief written by Willenburg and San Francisco partner Michael Pietrykowski arguing that accepting plaintiff's argument would mean that a manufacturer has a duty to warn about the hazards of defective products manufactured by third parties. For example, a syringe maker would have a duty to warn about the risks of any medicine that can be administered by syringe, because it is foreseeable that a syringe will be used to administer drugs. In The Recorder, Willenburg is quoted, "It's a fast and slippery slope to that kind of liability."

The Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case on Wednesday, November 9. A decision is due within 90 days.

Don is a leader of the firm's Appellate Practice Group, past chair of the Appellate Practice Section of the Bar Association of San Francisco, and serves on the amicus briefs committee of the Association of Defense Counsel of Northern California and Nevada. Mike is the leader of the firm's Environmental/Toxic Tort Practice Group.

Michael J. Pietrykowski
Don Willenburg