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From Products Liability Law Daily, November 5, 2018

John Crane had no duty to warn family members in ‘take-home’ asbestos exposure case

By Miriam A. Friedman, J.D.

A trial court did not err in holding that a manufacturer of asbestos-containing rope owed no duty to warn the wife of an employee who routinely handled the product, the Court of Special Appeals of Maryland found. The appellate court therefore affirmed the lower court’s grant of the manufacturer’s motion for judgment in a products liability action brought by the estate and surviving daughters of the woman, who had died of mesothelioma (Schatz v. John Crane, Inc., November 2, 2018, Beachley, D.).

The decedent’s husband worked in a facility where he routinely handled John Crane, Inc. brand packing rope, which contained asbestos. When his wife laundered his asbestos-covered work clothing, she was exposed to asbestos dust and ultimately contracted mesothelioma, which caused her death. The decedent’s estate and daughters brought a products liability claim against the rope manufacturer, and at the close of their case-in-chief, the manufacturer moved for judgment, arguing that it did not owe a duty of care to the decedent. The trial court agreed and granted the motion, and the decedent’s estate and daughters appealed.

Duty to warn. The appellate court first noted that, like the state high court in the controlling case Georgia-Pacific, LLC v. Farrar, 432 Md. 523 (2013), it was giving greater weight to policy considerations than to the issue of "foreseeability of harm." Turning to the question of "feasibility," the appellate court pointed out that the Farrar court had focused on the ability of the manufacturer to warn the household member, not an "intermediary." Furthermore, in the case at bar, the record was "devoid of any evidence" regarding what the employee would have done to warn his wife had he himself been warned of the dangers of asbestos. The court concluded that considering the lack of any evidence tending to demonstrate either that it was feasible for the manufacturer to warn the decedent—with whom it had no relationship—or how any such warning would have been effective, Farrar "instruct[ed] that [the manufacturer] had no duty to warn [the decedent]."

Household members as indeterminate class. Turning to the additional challenge to the lower court’s judgment, the appellate court found that because it had concluded that a warning "was neither feasible nor likely to be effective," any error the trial court may have made in holding that the decedent was not in an "identifiable class of individuals" was harmless.

The case is No. 1300.

Attorneys: Jeffrey Utermohle (Law Offices of Peter G. Angelos, P.C.) for Estate of Schatz. Michael Pollard (Simpson Grierson) for John Crane, Inc.

Companies: John Crane, Inc.

MainStory: TopStory WarningsNews AsbestosNews SCLIssuesNews MarylandNews

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