The United States Supreme Court will hear Air and Liquid Systems v. Devries in its next term, a case which raises the important question of whether a manufacturer that sold equipment to the United States Navy with no asbestos can be held liable for asbestos-related injuries resulting from other suppliers adding in their own products containing asbestos. The Third Circuit held that suits against any “bare metal” supplier—one who made their products in accordance with Navy specifications—might indeed be proper because it was “foreseeable” to that supplier at the time of its initial sale that products containing asbestos could be added on by independent parties. This theory, which works against any one supplier, can be brought simultaneously against multiple manufacturers who, years before, supplied bare metal components for naval ships.
This novel legal theory is a third-best alternative that takes the law far beyond its current contours. The obvious defendants are either the U.S. Navy or the supplier of those asbestos-contaminated products. But the Navy is immune from tort suit, and the suppliers of the asbestos products have all been bankrupted by a succession of earlier suits. Standard legal theories of causation hold that one person should not be held responsible for the wrongful acts of an independent party, and thus these cases ought to have been dismissed.More