California Asbestos Law: The Consumer Expectation Test
A recent court case, Saller v Crown Cork & Seal Company, reaffirms a product liability law that protects California asbestos victims and other victims of defective products. California has long been the leader in establishing products liability law. For many years, the courts have held that a product is defective if the design fails to meet consumers expectations as to safety or the benefits of the design are outweighed by safety risks inherent in the design.
In the Saller case, Mr. Saller had worked in an oil refinery for many years where he was exposed to asbestos on pipe insulation. Many years later he developed mesothelioma, a rare form of cancer, that is caused by asbestos exposure. Mesothelioma is a particularly virulent form of cancer, and Mr. Saller died within a year of his diagnosis.
The family of Mr. Saller brought a wrongful death action because of his death due to asbestos exposure. The asbestos company tried to prevent his family from applying the consumer expectation test at the time of trial. It argued that the test should not apply because there was no testimony regarding what an ordinary consumer might expect of asbestos at the time of the exposure. The appellate court rejected this analysis and followed other asbestos cases which held that the use of insulation products are within the understanding of the ordinary consumer and therefore the consumer expectation test was appropriate.
When I first started practicing as a personal injury lawyer in Oakland in 1983, the asbestos litigation was first starting up. I remember representing shipyard workers and pipe insulators who were suffering from asbestosis and lung cancers such as mesothelioma. I’ll never forget the suffering of these clients who were unsuspecting victims of this deadly product. I am glad to see our California courts are continuing to protect these asbestos victims by upholding the consumer expectation test in asbestos cases.