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February 2013

Massachusetts: No Liability for Somebody Else's Products

Massachusetts today joined other jurisdictions in holding that a defendant is not liable for the products of others – specifically, asbestos-containing gaskets, packing and insulation.

The decision affirmed summary judgments for two defendants that supplied equipment to the Navy. Whiting v. CBS, 2013 Mass. App. Unpub. LEXIS 183 (Mass. App. Ct. Feb. 14, 2013). Westinghouse “supplied its turbines uninsulated.” There was evidence that Crane was one “of as many as seven different manufacturers” of valves aboard ship. “Although Crane sold products containing asbestos, such as gaskets, Crane never manufactured any materials or products containing asbestos.” The Massachusetts Appeals Court found it significant that “any insulation originally installed on the turbines or valves would have been removed and replaced from unknown sources in two overhauls” before the decedent was aboard ship. “Accordingly, there is no evidence that Whiting’s mesothelioma was caused by asbestos products manufactured by the defendants.”

Whiting is therefore in line with similar decisions in asbestos cases in California (O’Neil v. Crane Co., 53 Cal. 4th 335, 342 (2012)); Washington (Braaten v. Saberhagen Holdings, 198 P.3d 493 (Wash. 2008) and Simonetta v. Viad Corp., 197 P.3d 127 (Wash. 2008)); Maryland (Ford Motor Co. v. Wood, 703 A.2d 1315 (Md.Ct.Spec.App. 1998) abrogated on other grounds in John Crane, Inc. v. Scribner, 800 A.2d 727 (Md. 2002)); and the 6th Circuit (Lindstrom v. A-C Product Liability Trust, 424 F.3d 488, 495-497(6th Cir. 2005)).

The case also involves some questionable ID testimony – the only witness had not seen decedent “working on the turbines, but he opined that Whiting would have removed and replaced asbestos gaskets and packing in Crane and Chapman valves and other equipment” – but that was not the court’s apparent focus so much as the “not the defendant’s products” rationale.

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Appellate

Michael J. Pietrykowski
Don Willenburg



Appellate
Environmental/Toxic Tort