When an individual suffers injury due to the use of a defective product, common legal practice involves naming virtually any party who may have some degree of liability. But in some cases, the manufacturer of a dangerous or toxic substance may prove to have no liability because other parties actually cause the toxic exposure. This was the situation in the case of Leonard Shields et al., Plaintiffs and Appellants v. Hennessy Industries, Inc., Defendant and Respondent.
The claimants in the case suffered illness as far back as the 1990s when they used the Hennessy Industries, Inc. brake arcing machines to grind brake linings manufactured by other companies. While the Hennessy machines contained no toxic substances, the brake linings contained asbestos, which sickened the operators from inhalation during its release during the grinding process. In a June 2010 judgment, the trial court found in favor of Hennessy on the grounds that the brake arcing machine did not represent the direct cause of asbestos exposure.
But in an April 2012 decision, the Court of Appeal of the State of California, 1st Appellate District, Division One found in favor of the plaintiffs on the grounds that since Hennessy manufactured and designed machines intended for use in grinding asbestos brake linings, the company failed to protect users from the asbestos fibers. Hennessy knew the linings contained asbestos, which was not a hazard until the machines released the fibers into the air. They found the product defective essentially because its design did not include appropriate features to effectively collect asbestos fibers or convert them into non-harmful materials.
The outcome of this case effectively illustrates the importance of perseverance when pursuing product liability cases — particularly when identifying the true negligent parties.