SCOTUS: Asbestos Injuries Are Covered Under Maritime Law
In November of 2018, the Supreme Court heard arguments for a class action lawsuit involving asbestos-related injuries caused by bare-metal items. The lawsuit described “bare-metal” products as those that required asbestos to work but sold without asbestos. The lawsuit was filed on behalf of two Navy veterans who asserted that they developed cancer because of the asbestos they used on bare-metal parts. Both veterans blamed five manufacturers of bare-metal parts for failing to warn about the dangers of working with the asbestos their products required.
The men claimed that the bare-metal equipment released dangerous amounts of asbestos into the air, even when used correctly. They could not sue the Navy because of its sovereign immunity from this type of liability. Because asbestos manufacturers in many cases are unable to be sued, the men sued the bare-metal manufacturers who knew their products needed asbestos to work but failed to warn of the material’s danger.
What the Courts Decided
Initially, the trial court decided that manufacturers cannot be liable for injuries from materials they did not make. So, in this case, the court found that bare-metal manufacturers were not responsible for asbestos exposure because they did not produce the material that made the sailors ill. In an opposing ruling, the court of appeals stated that the bare-metal manufacturers are liable for asbestos injuries because they knew that their products needed it to function.
The case eventually reached the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in favor of the sailors. In its decision, SCOTUS ruled that a manufacturer is liable for asbestos injuries if it knows that its parts need it to function. However, the court emphasized that manufacturers are only liable if their products require the incorporation of dangerous products to function. In its opinion, the court stated that, “in the maritime tort context, a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part, the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses, and the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the product’s users will realize that danger.”
In other words, the manufacturers were aware that their products rely on a dangerous substance. Because of this awareness of their product's functional needs, the manufacturers were obligated to warn users of their products about potential danger.
What This Means for Offshore Workers
This case sets a precedent that offshore workers are protected, in specific instances, from the dangers presented by materials they may work with. More importantly, it sets the precedent that manufacturers are obligated to warn workers of the dangers related to their products, even if they're not responsible for the hazard itself. Holding more manufacturers accountable creates a safer, stronger maritime industry.
If you've been injured in an offshore accident, call Arnold & Itkin today. Our attorneys have a history of fighting for maritime workers, and we've won billions of dollars in settlements and verdicts for clients nationwide. To speak with a member of our team, call us today at (888) 346-5024. Consultation is free, and you only pay if we get results.