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Asbestos & role of equipment manufacturers

Do equipment manufacturers have a duty to warn when their product requires incorporation of “asbestos” for insulation in order for the eq. to function as intended? The US supreme court recognizing a special solicitude for welfare of seafarers, decided ‘yes’ in a much awaited judgement earlier this week.

Different eq. manufacturers had supplied various machineries to three US naval ships. The manufacturers had either specified that asbestos was required or were aware that it was needed for eq. to function as intended. The navy procured this from elsewhere. Years later 2 crew developed cancer which was linked to exposure to asbestos dust (from 1950s-1970s) & later died. Their family members sued the eq. manufacturers. They had also sued the asbestos manufacturers but could not recover much as they had gone bankrupt.


Eq. manufacturers contended that they cannot be held liable for harms caused by later-added 3rd party parts (the bare metal defense) and that providing such warnings could lead to over-warnings. Treating the seafarers as a separate species, the court held that in maritime context, equipment manufacturers do have a duty (retrospectively!) to provide such warnings if there is a danger (such as from asbestos) intrinsic in the use and repair of the eq.



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