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Asbestos: Is a Navy Ship a “Product” for Strict Product Liability Purposes and is there a “Sophisticated Purchaser” Defense?

November 2
2012

The federal court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania has continued the recent trend of reexamining whether admiralty law applies in waterfront asbestos cases.

In Mack v. General Electric Co., 2012 U.S. Dist. LEXIS 143380 (Oct. 3, 2012), the court was presented with two issues of first impression under maritime law:

  1. Is a Navy ship a “product” within the meaning of product liability doctrine?
  2. Does maritime law recognize a “sophisticated user” or a “sophisticated purchaser” defense and, if so, to what causes of action does the defense(s) apply?

Applying maritime law, the court answered:

“The Court concludes that, under maritime law, (1) a manufacturer or supplier of a product has no duty to warn an end user who is “sophisticated” regarding the hazards of the product, (2) the sophistication of an intermediary (or employer) – or the warning of that intermediary (or employer) by a manufacturer or supplier – does not preclude potential liability of the manufacturer or supplier, and (3) a Navy ship is not a “product” for purposes of strict product liability.”

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