Supreme Court orders Navy contractors to give warnings about asbestos exposure

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Nearly four years after upholding the use of lethal injections, the court’s five conservatives ruled against Missouri inmate Russell Bucklew’s claim that it would cause him particularly gruesome pain, suggesting instead that it was just another delaying tactic. | AP Photo

A divided Supreme Court ruled Tuesday that Navy contractors must warn about asbestos exposure if they know their products will require asbestos before being put to use.

The 6-3 ruling by new Associate Justice Brett Kavanaugh represented another in a series of examples in which he and Chief Justice John Roberts have sided with the court’s four liberal justices against the other three conservatives.

The dispute was over the manufacturers’ liability for a product they did not produce, but that they knew would be added later on. The court majority ruled that in such a case, manufacturers have a duty to warn of its use.

“Maritime law has always recognized a special solicitude for the welfare of those sailors who undertake to venture upon hazardous and unpredictable sea voyages,” Kavanaugh said from the bench.

Associate Justice Neil Gorsuch – President Donald Trump’s other high court nominee – dissented and was joined by Justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

“Encouraging manufacturers to offer warnings about other people’s products risks long, duplicative, fine print, and conflicting warnings that will leave consumers less sure about which to take seriously and more likely to disregard them all,” Gorsuch wrote.

“A home chef who buys a butcher’s knife may expect to read warnings about the dangers of knives but not about the dangers of undercooked meat,” he added. “Likewise, a purchaser of gasoline may expect to see warnings at the pump about its flammability but not about the dangers of recklessly driving a car.”

The case was filed by the families of two Navy sailors, Kenneth McAfee and John DeVries, who developed cancer as a result of asbestos exposure and later died.

The companies being sued, including Air & Liquid Systems Corp., manufactured pumps, blowers, turbines and other equipment. The asbestos was added later by companies that are now bankrupt.

“A manufacturer has a duty to warn when its product requires incorporation of a part and the manufacturer has reason to know that the integrated product is likely to be dangerous,” Kavanaugh said.


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