SCOTUS Opinion: Manufacturers Have Duty To Warn Sailors Of Products That Require Asbestos Parts

In Air & Liquid System Corp. v. DeVries, a company manufactured equipment for three Navy ships that, as shipped, contained no asbestos, but required asbestos insulation or parts to work as intended. The Navy added the asbestos parts later when the equipment was installed on the ships. The equipment was put into use, releasing asbestos into the air, and causing five sailors to develop cancer. The sailors sued the manufacturer for failing to warn them of the danger. The manufacturer argued that since the equipment was delivered in “bare-metal” condition, there was no duty to warn for parts that a third party might add to the equipment. The District Court ruled for the manufacturer, but the Third Circuit reversed, splitting from the Sixth Circuit, and held that there was a duty to warn of any foreseeable addition of asbestos materials to the equipment. The Court, in a majority opinion by Justice Kavanaugh, affirmed the Third Circuit’s ruling that the “bare-metal defense” was not applicable in the maritime context. The Court, however, rejected the foreseeability test, and instead held that the manufacturer owed a duty when “(i) the part 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.” Justice Gorsuch, joined by Justices Thomas and Alito, dissented, arguing that the Court’s new test was no better than the foreseeability test, and that common law principles favored the bare-metal defense.