Friday, June 24, 2016
S.C. Limits Scope of ‘Component Parts’ Protection
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
A rule that protects manufacturers from liability, when their products have been incorporated into a new product that is held defective, is inapplicable when it is the component part that causes injury, the state Supreme Court ruled yesterday.
The justices unanimously affirmed a ruling by this district’s Court of Appeal that allows Flavio Ramos, a metal foundry worker, to sue more than a dozen companies he claims are responsible for his developing interstitial pulmonary fibrosis.
“[W]e conclude that the Court of Appeal decision in this case should be affirmed,” Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye wrote. “As the Court of Appeal explained, the protection afforded to defendants by the component parts doctrine does not apply when the product supplied has not been incorporated into a different finished or end product but instead, as here, itself allegedly causes injury when used in the manner intended by the product supplier.”
The high court largely overruled Maxton v. Western States Metals (2012) 203 Cal.App.4th 81, which Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Amy Hogue relied on in sustaining demurrers to Ramos’ complaint. The case must go back to the trial court, Cantil-Sakauye said, to resolve other issues that the defendants raised but that were not ruled on.
Ramos worked for Supreme Castings & Pattern Co., Inc., a metal parts manufacturer, for more than 30 years. He claims that his present illness is a result of exposure to toxic fumes released when the defendants’ products—metals, plaster, and minerals—were integrated into Supreme’s products through a foundry and fabrication process.
Hogue ruled that the plaintiff was unable to “plead around” Artiglio v. General Electric Co. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 830, and Maxton.
Artiglio held that a supplier of silicone, whose purchaser “cooked” the silicone for use in breast implants, had no duty to warn ultimate consumers of the possible dangers of the implants, because “component and raw material suppliers are not liable to ultimate consumers when the goods or material they supply are not inherently dangerous, they sell goods or material in bulk to a sophisticated buyer, the material is substantially changed during the manufacturing process and the supplier has a limited role in developing and designing the end product.”
Maxton cited Artiglio in holding that a plaintiff who did work similar to that performed by Ramos and developed the same illness could not recover from the suppliers of component products for injuries alleged to have arisen from the use of those products during the manufacturing process.
But Maxton was inconsistent with the rationale for the “component parts” doctrine, the chief said yesterday. She cited the Restatement Third of Torts, Products Liability, which explains that “it would be unjust and inefficient to impose liability” on the maker of a non-defective component “solely on the ground that the manufacturer of the integrated product utilizes the component in a manner that renders the integrated product defective.”
According to the Restatement, this would force the maker of the component to “scrutinize” the integrated manufacturer’s separate product and to incur the costs of “developing sufficient sophistication” to conduct that scrutiny.
That rationale doesn’t apply to Ramos, whose “injury was not caused by a finished product into which the materials supplied by defendants had been transformed and integrated,” but “allegedly caused directly by the materials themselves when used in a manner intended by the suppliers,” the chief justice wrote.
Cantil-Sakauye emphasized the limited nature of the court’s decision, saying Ramos could still lose the case if he can’t prove design defect or failure to warn, or if he can’t prove causation.
The case was argued by Long Beach attorney Raphael Metzger for the plaintiff and by Pittsburgh, Pa. lawyer Nicholas P. Vari of K&L Gates for the defendants.
The case is Ramos v. Brenntag Specialties, Inc., 16 S.O.S. 3008.
Copyright 2016, Metropolitan News Company