Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp Case Brief

Summary of Anderson v. Owens-Corning Fiberglas Corp, S. Ct of CA [1991]

Warning Defects

Relevant Facts: Df are or were manufacturers of products containing asbestos. Pl Anderson while working as an electrician at the Long Beach Naval Shipyard, encountered asbestos while working in the vicinity of others who were removing and installing insulation products aboard the ships. PL contracted asbestosis and other lung ailments through exposure to asbestos and its by-products.

Legal Issue(s): Whether a DF in a product liability action based upon an alleged failure to warn of a risk of harm may present evidence of the state of the art; evidence that the particular risk was neither known or knowable by the application of scientific knowledge available at the time of manufacture/distribution?

Court’s Holding: Yes

Procedure: After a verdict for the Df, the trial ct granted a new trial and the parties argued on appeal the admissibility of state of the art evidence. Ct of App affirmed. S Ct granted review, superseding the opinion of the Court of Appeal, Judgment affirmed with directions.

Law or Rule(s): A manufacturer is strictly liable in tort when an article he places on the market, knowing that it is to be used without inspection for defects, proves to have a defect that causes injury to a human being.

Court Rationale: California cts, either expressly or by implication, have to date required knowledge, actual or constructive, of potential risk or danger before imposing strict liability for a failure to warn. State of the art evidence may be relevant to the question of knowability and should be admissible. Exclusion of the evidence would make the manufacturer a virtual insurer of the products safety. The warning defect relates to a failure extraneous to the product itself. While a manufacturing or design defect can be evaluated w/o reference to the conduct of the manufacturer, the giving of a warning cannot b/c that warning requires a communication of something to someone. Strict liability is not concerned w/ the standard of due care or the reasonableness of a manufacturer’s conduct. Did the Df adequately warn of a particular risk that was known or knowable in light of the generally recognized and prevailing best scientific and medical knowledge available at the time of manufacture and distribution or not?

The fact that a manufacturer acted as a reasonably prudent manufacturer in deciding not to warn, although perhaps absolving the manufacturer of liability under a negligence theory, would not preclude liability under strict liability principles if the trier of fact concluded that, based on information scientifically available to the manufacturer, the manufacturer’s failure to warn rendered the product unsafe to its users.

Plaintiff’s Argument: To impose the requirement of knowledge or knowability improperly infuses a negligence standard into strict liability.

Defendant’s Argument: IF knowledge or knowability is irrelevant in a failure to warn case, then a manufacturer’s potential liability is absolute, rendering it the virtual insurer of the product’s safe use.

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