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Sherman v. Hennessy Industries Inc. B252566 2015 DJDAR 6888 2nd District

Exception to rule barring liability for harm caused by another’s product applies where manufacturer’s asbestos-releasing machine contributes substantially to the harm.

From 1962 to 1977, Michael Sherman used a machine made by Automotive Maintenance Machinery Co. (AMMCO) while working as a mechanic. The machine released asbestos dust when applied to brake linings. Most brake linings during this time period contained asbestos. AAMCO did not make the brake linings used in the machine. Sherman’s wife Debra Jean Sherman, now deceased, allegedly developed mesothelioma as a result of exposure to asbestos dust Sherman carried home from work. Sherman and others sued Hennessy Industries Inc. (Hennessy), AMMCO’s successor in interest, for strict products liability. The court granted summary judgment in Hennessey’s favor, concluding it was not liable for injury caused by products AMMCO never manufactured nor distributed.

Reversed and remanded. The general rule under O’Neil v. Crane Co. bars imposition of strict liability on a manufacturer for harm caused by another manufacturer’s product. This relates to “adjacent products” that are made and sold by others but used in conjunction with the manufacturer’s own product. An exception to this rule applies when “the defendant’s own product contributed substantially to the harm.” It requires a special relationship between the manufacturer’s product and the alleged harm. Here, the product-harm relationship is satisfied because AMMCO’s machine was necessarily used with drum brake linings and asbestos dust resulted from that joint use. Someone using the machine would invariably be subjected to asbestos dust given the near universal use of asbestos-containing linings during the pertinent time period. Hennessy failed to carry its burden on summary judgment and the court’s decision must be reversed. Opinion by Justice Manella.