Washington Supreme Court Affirms Respirator Manufacturer Liability in Asbestos Cases
High court affirms respirator manufacturers have a duty to warn users of risk of asbestos exposure
13 Aug, 2012, 03:25 ET
SEATTLE, Aug. 13, 2012 /PRNewswire/ -- Bergman Draper Ladenburg, the Pacific Northwest's premier asbestos attorneys, today announced that a landmark decision by the Washington State Supreme Court will allow many asbestos victims to pursue legal claims against respirator manufacturers and other equipment manufacturers who may have failed to provide adequate warnings about asbestos exposure.
The plaintiff in the case, Leo Macias, worked as a tool keeper in a shipyard in which asbestos was present. As part of his normal duties he cleaned and maintained respirators used by workers who were exposed to asbestos. Macias alleged that he was exposed as a result and developed mesothelioma. He filed suit against the Shipyard and the manufacturer of the respirators.
The respirator manufacturers moved for summary judgment claiming that the company had no duty to warn its customers about possible asbestos exposure because of standing precedent in two previous asbestos cases. The trial court denied the motion, but an appellate court reversed, sending the case to the Washington State Supreme Court.
In a hotly contested and widely-watched 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of Macias, distinguishing existing precedent from the case and rejecting the manufacturer's motion for summary judgment.
"This is an important victory in the fight for justice for the millions of Americans who were exposed to asbestos," said Matthew Bergman, one of Mr. Macias' attorneys. "We believe that the manufacturers knew that their respirators would be used in environments with asbestos present, and thus had an affirmative duty to warn users of the risks of contamination."
The ruling is a landmark decision in asbestos litigation, according to Bergman. "When we hear about asbestos victims, we usually think of people who were directly exposed at their work site," said Bergman. "Macias' story reminds us that many were exposed in more indirect ways, such as inhaling dust with asbestos while cleaning respirators. This decision will allow many of those victims to have their day in court."
The respirator manufacturers had argued that because their products did not contain asbestos, they were not responsible for Macias' exposure.
However, the court's majority opinion rejected their arguments, noting that, "The very purpose of the respirators would, of necessity, lead to high concentrations of asbestos (and/or other contaminants) in them, and in order to reuse them as they were intended to be reused, this asbestos had to be removed."
"The court's wise decision distinguishes between manufacturers who did not know their products would be lined with or used with asbestos from those who did and failed to warn users," said Bergman. "This distinction is important, and we believe that the respirator manufacturers had a duty to warn users because their product was explicitly designed for use with asbestos."
The court has remanded the case back to the trial court, where it will proceed, with a trial scheduled for early 2013.
About Bergman Draper Ladenburg
Bergman Draper Ladenburg is a Seattle-based law firm that focuses on representing individuals and families who have been harmed by more powerful interests. The firm built its reputation on serious asbestos disease claims and is expanding its practice to benzene and predatory lending cases. Matthew Bergman is the firm's managing partner and one of seven lawyers across the nation who negotiated a $4 billion national settlement with the Halliburton Corporation for its asbestos liabilities, approximately $30 million of which went to Bergman Draper Ladenburg clients residing primarily in the Pacific Northwest.
Matthew Bergman (206) 957-9510
Mark Firmani (206) 443-9357
Bergman Draper Ladenburg
Firmani + Associates, Inc.
SOURCE Bergman Draper Ladenburg
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