6/3/20 – Today the New Jersey Supreme Court issued its decision in Whelan v. Armstrong International, Inc., a lawsuit brought on behalf of a former residential and commercial plumber and automobile mechanic who developed mesothelioma, a fatal cancer, as a result of his exposure to asbestos. This decision from New Jersey’s highest court is an important win for New Jersey workers who were exposed to asbestos and will help ensure that manufacturers are held responsible for failing to warn of the hazards of exposure to asbestos associated with their products.
The question before the Court in Whelan was whether or not manufacturers and distributors of products with asbestos-containing components can be held responsible for failing to warn of the hazards of asbestos associated with replacements for those asbestos-containing components which they did not manufacture or distribute. For example, the defendants in Whelan included an automobile manufacturer that sold vehicles with asbestos-containing brakes. As a result, automobile mechanics, and non-professionals who performed their own “shade-tree” automotive work, were routinely exposed to asbestos while replacing and removing asbestos-containing brakes. Often, such workers and consumers used replacement brakes manufactured and supplied by companies other than the auto manufacturer. In Whelan, the Court determined that the automobile manufacturer could be held responsible for failing to warn people exposed to asbestos from brakes manufactured and distributed by other companies when those replacement brakes are used on the manufacturer’s vehicles. Similarly, manufacturers of pumps, valves, and steam-traps that utilized asbestos-containing gaskets and packing, and manufacturers of boilers with asbestos-containing insulation and rope gaskets may be held responsible for failing to warn of the hazards of exposure to asbestos from those components even if they are replacements manufactured by other companies.
This decision will benefit plaintiffs with mesothelioma, lung cancer, and other asbestos-related diseases who were exposed to asbestos while working as mechanics, furnace and boiler repairmen, machinists, and in other occupations that required them to maintain and repair equipment and machinery with asbestos components, by allowing them to hold the manufacturers and distributors of the equipment and machinery responsible for their failure to warn them of the hazards of asbestos. Not only does this decision protect the rights of New Jersey workers injured by defective products, it will hopefully encourage manufactures to make safer products in the future and to warn of all of the hazards associated with their products, including those caused by replacement parts. As the Supreme Court noted in the Whelan decision, “[t]he purpose of warnings is to allow a worker, like Whelan, the opportunity to take the necessary precautions, such as donning protective gear, to protect against the inhalation of deadly asbestos fibers or dust. The manufacturer or distributor of the integrated product is best situated to provide those warnings.”
Levy Konigsberg attorney, Amber Long, wrote an amicus curiae, or “friend of the court” brief on behalf of the New Jersey Association for Justice (NJAJ), and was granted the opportunity to participate in oral arguments by the Supreme Court. NJAJ is a statewide association of over 2,700 members in private practice and public service, paralegals, law clerks, law students and law school graduates not yet admitted to the bar. NJAJ is dedicated to protecting New Jersey’s families by working to preserve and strengthen the laws for safer products and workplaces, a cleaner environment and quality health care. It is important to the attorneys of Levy Konigsberg to work with such organizations to advance the rights of not only the firm’s clients, but all New Jersey citizens.