Earlier this month, the California Supreme Court heard oral argument in O’Neil v. Crane Co. How the CA Supreme Court decides the case will likely either expand or limit the duty of the product manufacturers to warn about the hazards of replacement parts that others made but that are then incorporated by the purchaser in the manufacturer’s original product.
O’Neil is a case about a plaintiff’s exposure to asbestos-containing gaskets and packing materials used in and around Crane Co’s valves and pumps, which the Navy incorporated into the steam propulsion system aboard the USS Oriskany. The plaintiff had served on the Oriskany while he was enlisted.
Though the pumps and valves delivered to the Navy originally incorporated asbestos-containing gaskets and packing, all parties agreed that by the time plaintiff served aboard the Oriskany, the original asbestos packing and gaskets had been removed and replaced with packing and gaskets manufactured by third parties. Nevertheless, the plaintiff argued the pump and valve manufacturers had a duty to warn him regarding the hazards of asbestos.
The Court did not appear to sit well with the proposition that the pumps and valves could be deemed defectively designed if the pumps and valves were “asbestos neutral,” and could function just as well in other systems utilizing non-asbestos containing materials.
This may be a large focus for the court with regard to assigning a duty to warn about replacement parts made by others only if the replacement part is identical to the original hazardous part, and the replacement part is essential to the function of the defendant’s product. We await the decision, which will come out in about two and a half months from today.