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Air & Liquid Sys. Corp. v. DeVries

Supreme Court of the United States

October 10, 2018, Argued; March 19, 2019, Decided

No. 17-1104.

Opinion

 [*991]  Justice Kavanaugh delivered the opinion of the Court.

In maritime tort cases, we act as a common-law court, subject to any controlling statutes enacted by Congress. See Exxon Shipping Co. v. Baker, 554 U. S. 471, 507-508, 128 S. Ct. 2605, 171 L. Ed. 2d 570 (2008). This maritime tort case raises a question about the scope of a manufacturer’s duty to warn. The manufacturers here produced equipment such as pumps, blowers, and turbines for three Navy ships. The equipment required asbestos insulation or asbestos parts in order to function as intended. When used on the ships, the equipment [***6]  released asbestos fibers into the air. Two Navy veterans who were exposed to asbestos on the ships developed cancer and later died. The veterans’ families sued the equipment manufacturers, claiming that the manufacturers were negligent in failing to warn of the dangers of asbestos.

The plaintiffs contend that a manufacturer has a duty to warn when the manufacturer’s product requires incorporation of a part (here, asbestos) that the manufacturer knows is likely to make the integrated product dangerous for its intended uses. The manufacturers respond that they had no duty to warn because they did not  [**379]  themselves incorporate the asbestos into their equipment; rather, the Navy added the asbestos to the equipment after the equipment was already on board the ships.

We agree with the plaintiffs. In the maritime tort context, a product manufacturer has a duty to warn when (i) its product requires incorporation of a part, (ii) the manufacturer knows or has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous for its intended uses, and (iii) the manufacturer has no reason to believe that the product’s users will realize that danger. The District Court did not apply that test when [***7]  granting summary judgment to the defendant manufacturers. Although we do not agree with all of the reasoning of the U. S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit, we affirm its judgment requiring the District Court to reconsider its prior grants of summary judgment to the defendant manufacturers.

Kenneth McAfee served in the U. S. Navy for more than 20 years. As relevant here, McAfee worked on the U. S. S. Wanamassa from 1977 to 1980 and then on the U. S. S. Commodore from 1982 to 1986. John DeVries served in the U. S. Navy from 1957 to 1960. He worked on the U. S. S. Turner.

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139 S. Ct. 986 *; 203 L. Ed. 2d 373 **; 2019 U.S. LEXIS 2087 ***; 2019 AMC 631; CCH Prod. Liab. Rep. P20,575; 86 ERC (BNA) 4403; 27 Fla. L. Weekly Fed. S 715; 2019 WL 1245520

AIR AND LIQUID SYSTEMS CORP., et al., Petitioners v. ROBERTA G. DeVRIES, Individually and as Administratrix of the ESTATE OF JOHN B. DeVRIES, DECEASED, et al.

Notice: The LEXIS pagination of this document is subject to change pending release of the final published version.

Prior History:  [***1] ON WRIT OF CERTIORARI TO THE UNITED STATES COURT OF APPEALS FOR THE THIRD CIRCUIT

In re Asbestos Prods. Liab. Litig., 873 F.3d 232, 2017 U.S. App. LEXIS 19118 (3d Cir. Pa., Oct. 3, 2017)

Disposition: 873 F. 3d 232, affirmed.

CORE TERMS

manufacturer, asbestos, warn, products, integrated, duty to warn, incorporation, users, reason to know, maritime, cases, ships, foreseeability, consumers, courts, risks, product manufacturer, maritime tort, intended use, third-party, metal, bare, replacement, bare-metal, insulation, turbine, maritime law, later-added, product liability, court of appeals

Admiralty & Maritime Law, Practice & Procedure, Jurisdiction, Constitutional Law, The Judiciary, Jurisdiction, Maritime Jurisdiction, Business & Corporate Compliance, Admiralty & Maritime, Products Liability Actions, Statutory Sources, Choice of Law, Torts, Products Liability, Types of Defects, Marketing & Warning Defects