O'Neil v. Crane Co., No. S177401.

CourtUnited States State Supreme Court (California)
Writing for the CourtCORRIGAN
Citation53 Cal.4th 335,2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 464,135 Cal.Rptr.3d 288,12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 561,266 P.3d 987
PartiesBarbara J. O'NEIL et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants, v. CRANE CO. et al., Defendants and Respondents.
Decision Date12 January 2012
Docket NumberNo. S177401.

12 Cal. Daily Op. Serv. 561
135 Cal.Rptr.3d 288
2012 Daily Journal D.A.R. 464
266 P.3d 987
53 Cal.4th 335

Barbara J. O'NEIL et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants,
v.
CRANE CO. et al., Defendants and Respondents.

No. S177401.

Supreme Court of California

Jan. 12, 2012.


135 Cal.Rptr.3d 291] Waters Kraus & Paul, El Segundo, Paul C. Cook, Michael B. Gurien; The Ehrlich Law Firm and Jeffrey Isaac Ehrlich for Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Brayton & Purcell, Novato, Alan R. Brayton, Gilbert L. Purcell, Lloyd F. Leroy and Richard M. Grant for American Merchant Marine Veterans as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.

Kazan, McClain, Lyons, Greenwood & Harley, Oakland, James L. Oberman and Michael T. Stewart for John and Diane Allen, Robert and Beverly Lindenmayer, Joan Tommaney and Darrell and Suzanne Turner as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.Marc I. Willick for Mesothelioma Applied Research Foundation as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.Terrence M. Johnson; Girardi & Keese, Los Angeles, Thomas V. Girardi; Cronin & Co. and Thomas C. Cronin for International Association of Heat and Frost Insulators and Allied Workers as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.Simon, Eddins & Greenstone and Brian P. Barrow for Tamara Merrill and Edward Walton as Amici Curiae on behalf of Plaintiffs and Appellants.Horvitz & Levy, Encino, David M. Axelrad, Jason R. Litt, Curt Cutting, K & L Gates, San Francisco, Raymond L. Gill, Robert E. Feyder, Geoffrey M. Davis, Paul J. Lawrence and Nicholas P. Vari for Defendant and Respondent Crane Co.Carroll, Burdick & McDonough, James P. Cunningham, San Francisco, Laurie J. Hepler and Gonzalo C. Martinez for Defendant and Respondent Warren Pumps LLC.Shook, Hardy & Bacon, San Francisco, Mark A. Behrens and Kevin Underhill for Coalition for Litigation Justice, Inc., Chamber of Commerce of the United States of America, National Association of Manufacturers, NFIB Small Business Legal[135 Cal.Rptr.3d 292] Center, American Tort Reform Association, National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies, Association of California Insurance Companies, American Insurance Association, American Petroleum Institute and American Chemistry Council as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.Wildman, Harrold, Allen & Dixon, Clinton J. McCord, Beverly Hills, Stephen J. Landes, Douglas L. Prochnow and Rana H. Janney for Rockwell Automation, Inc., and Invensys PLC as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.Debevoise & Plimpton, Roger E. Podesta, Erich O. Grosz; Gordon & Rees, San Francisco, Michael J. Pietrykowski and Don Willenburg for Ingersoll Rand Company as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.Bates White and Charles E. Bates as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.Fred J. Hiestand, Sacramento, for The Civil Justice Association of California as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.Deborah J. La Fetra for Pacific Legal Foundation as Amici Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.Sedgwick, Detert, Moran & Arnold, San Francisco, Frederick D. Baker and Brian R. Thompson for Caterpillar, Inc., as Amicus Curiae on behalf of Defendants and Respondents.CORRIGAN, J.

[266 P.3d 991

[53 Cal.4th 342] This case involves the limits of a manufacturer's duty to prevent foreseeable harm related to its product: When is a product manufacturer liable for injuries caused by adjacent products or replacement parts that were made by others and used in conjunction with the defendant's product? We hold that a product manufacturer may not be held liable in strict liability or negligence for harm caused by another manufacturer's product unless the defendant's own product contributed substantially to the harm, or the defendant participated substantially in creating a harmful combined use of the products.

Defendants Crane Co. (Crane) and Warren Pumps LLC (Warren) made valves and pumps used in Navy warships. They were sued here for a wrongful death allegedly caused by asbestos released from external insulation and internal gaskets and packing, all of which were made by third parties and added to the pumps and valves post sale. It is undisputed that defendants never manufactured or sold any of the asbestos-containing materials to which plaintiffs' decedent was exposed. Nevertheless, plaintiffs claim defendants should be held strictly liable and negligent because it was foreseeable workers would be exposed to and harmed by the asbestos in replacement parts and products used in conjunction with their pumps and valves.

Recognizing plaintiffs' claims would represent an unprecedented expansion of strict products liability. We decline to do so. California law has long provided that manufacturers, distributors, and retailers have a duty to ensure the safety of their products, and will be held strictly liable for injuries caused by a defect in their products. Yet, we have never held that these responsibilities extend to preventing injuries caused by other products that might foreseeably be used in conjunction with a defendant's product. Nor have we [53 Cal.4th 343] held that manufacturers must warn about potential hazards in replacement parts made by others when, as here, the dangerous feature of these parts was not integral to the product's design. The broad rule plaintiffs urge would not further the purposes of strict liability. Nor would public policy be served by requiring manufacturers[135 Cal.Rptr.3d 293] to warn about the dangerous propensities of products they do not design, make, or sell.

BACKGROUND
I. Defendants' Pump and Valve Products on Navy Warships

During World War II, defendants sold parts to the United States Navy for use in the steam propulsion systems of warships. These propulsion systems were vast and complex. Massive boilers generated steam from seawater. The steam flowed through a maze of interconnected pipes to power the ship's engines and provide energy for use throughout the vessel. A single ship contained several miles of piping. Because the steam flowing through this system was extremely hot and highly pressurized, the pipes and attached components required insulation to prevent heat loss and protect against accidental burns. Navy specifications required the use of asbestos-containing insulation on all external surfaces of the steam propulsion systems. Asbestos insulation was also used as an internal sealant within gaskets and other components of the propulsion system. The Navy preferred asbestos over other

[266 P.3d 992]

types of insulating materials because it was lightweight, strong, and effective. Indeed, asbestos was considered to be such an important resource that a 1942 federal regulation ordered its conservation for the war effort. (conservation order no. M–123, 7 fed.reg. 2472 (mar. 31, 1942).) plaintiffs' expert admitted there was no acceptable substitute for asbestos until at least the late 1960's. Warships could not have been built without it.

The Navy's Bureau of Ships oversaw the design and construction of warships. Naval engineers created specifications that provided detailed design, material, and performance requirements for equipment to be used on board. Equipment that did not conform with the Navy's specifications was rejected. Product manufacturers were required to comply with naval specifications, including those mandating the use of asbestos.

Crane produced valves for Navy ships according to these strict military specifications. The steam propulsion system in a typical warship included hundreds of valves of different sizes and functions. In general, valves controlled the flow of steam from one point to another through the system. Packing materials inside valves were used as sealants, to protect against leakage of high-pressure steam or liquids. Although cotton packing was sometimes used for colder-temperature applications, the majority of packing [53 Cal.4th 344] used on Navy ships contained asbestos. Gaskets were also used inside the valves to seal the joints between metal surfaces. Although some gaskets were made of metal, the gaskets used in valves, flanges, or pump casings generally contained asbestos. During the early 1940's, Navy specifications required that the internal gaskets and packing materials in valves contain asbestos. At that time, asbestos was the only insulating material that could withstand the extremely high temperatures and pressures produced by a warship's steam propulsion system. Following mandated Navy specifications, Crane used asbestos in its valves and packing. However, no evidence was presented that asbestos, as opposed to some other type of insulation material, was needed in order for the valves to function properly. Indeed, Crane made some valves of corrugated iron, which contained no asbestos. Crane did not manufacture the asbestos packing or gaskets used in its valves. It purchased these components from Navy-approved vendors.

Warren supplied pumps. Navy ships contained hundreds of pumps used for various[135 Cal.Rptr.3d 294] purposes. In the steam propulsion system of a warship, pumps moved liquids and condensed steam. Like Crane, Warren built its pumps for specific ships in accordance with stringent naval specifications. Most of these pumps had internal gaskets and packing that contained asbestos.1 One Warren pump also had asbestos insulation around a valve stem, but it was covered with a layer of sheet metal. The pumps were not made or shipped with external insulation. As with Crane's valves, no evidence was presented that Warren's pumps required the use of internal components made with asbestos in order to operate.

Once the parts were received, shipbuilders integrated them into a complex steam-propulsion system. Pumps and valves were connected to other components, such as boilers and piping, with asbestos-containing flange gaskets. Neither Crane nor Warren produced these flange gaskets. All metal components of the steam-propulsion...

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