General Electric chose not to warn about asbestos, faces lawsuit for poisoning veteran
A federal judge in California recently ruled that General Electric must
stand trial in California state court for its failure to warn navy sailors
about asbestos contained in the products and equipment GE installed on
naval vessels. In an effort to transfer the case to federal court, where
asbestos lawsuits languish and rarely see light of day, General Electric
sought to use a discredited legal argument whose sole purpose is to avoid
ever having to compensate its victim.
On April 13, 2007, United States District Judge for the Central District
of California Gary Klausner rejected GE's tactics. Judge Klausner
ruled that General Electric must stand trial in state court. General Electric's
asbestos-containing equipment includes turbines, generators, and condensers,
among many others. These products have been a source of asbestos exposure
among sailors, exposure that later leads to fatal mesothelioma, an aggressive
cancer of the lung lining.
Samuel Scarbrough was exposed to GE's asbestos-containing turbines
while serving in the navy aboard the USS West Virginia. As a result, he
developed mesothelioma and died. General Electric's attempt to move
the case to federal court was based on a "federal officer" argument,
essentially claiming that GE used asbestos because the navy required it.
See ------ for a detailed review of this favorite defense tactic to keep
asbestos victims from ever having their day in court.
Judge Klausner rejected the maneuver on several grounds, pointing out that
none of GE's evidence showed that that navy instructed GE not to warn
sailors of asbestos hazards. The judge also rejected the defense stratagem
on the grounds that GE failed to produce a shred of evidence showing that
any of the navy's equipment specifications forced GE
not to warn Scarborough about asbestos.
In the court's words, "Defendant (General Electric) has submitted
numerous exhibits, declarations, and specifications from the United States
Navy demonstrating that the Navy exercised control over the design and
manufacturing of Defendant's machines…
Defendant has not shown that the Navy required it to refrain from issuing warnings
nor has it shown that the Navy provided reasonably precise specifications
affecting Defendant's provision of Warnings." (emphasis added).
Significance for asbestos victims
When a manufacturer knew or should have known of a danger inherent in one
of its products, the manufacturer has a duty to provide adequate warnings
so that potential users will know about the danger. This type of lawsuit
is known as "failure to warn."
General Electric could have included warnings with their products, potentially
saving thousands of lives. Instead they chose not to warn navy sailors
about the lethal danger of asbestos, with tragic results. Thousands of
people die every year from asbestos poisoning, many of them veterans exposed
during service in the navy.
Throughout the United States, when asbestos victims seek restitution from
the companies that knowingly poisoned them, the defendant companies generally
try to permanently remove the case to federal court. Thanks to this ruling
by Judge Klausner and other similar rulings in other federal courts, navy
veterans like Scarbrough can have their day in court.