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A Manufacturer Has No Duty with Respect to Replacement Parts That It Neither Manufactured nor Placed into the Stream of Commerce

November 14, 2014 By James S. Liskow

The Maryland Court of Special Appeals has revisited the issue as to whether a manufacturer can be held liable for injuries caused by replacement parts it neither manufactured nor placed into the stream of commerce. In May v. Air & Liquid Sys. al, a machinist’s mate in the United States Navy sued the manufacturers of pumps used on Navy ships for asbestos exposure occurring when he routinely replaced gaskets and insulation on those pumps. The Court of Special Appeals pointed out that the Plaintiff had never served on a new ship, and that there had been similar maintenance work performed on each of the ships upon which he served prior to his service as a machinist’s mate.  Therefore, the gaskets and insulation Plaintiff used were not manufactured or distributed by the pump manufacturers.

The Navy had specified the type of gaskets to be installed and insulation to be used in the pumps. The defendant pump manufacturers made no recommendation as to replacement parts and did not supply the parts to the Navy. The Court of Special Appeals explained that, as such, the manufacturers owed no duty to the Plaintiff. Although the pumps when originally manufactured included asbestos containing parts, it was not those original parts that the Plaintiff was exposed to.

The Court of Special Appeals explained that the law remains unchanged since its 1998 decision in Ford Motor Co. v. Wood.  In that case, the Plaintiff unsuccessfully sued Ford following his work as a mechanic on Ford vehicles where he was exposed to brakes containing asbestos. The parts at issue were not original to the vehicles and were not manufactured or distributed by Ford. The Court of Special Appeals based its decision in May on those principles first annunciated in the Ford Motor Co. case. It was also pointed out that since the Ford Motor Co. case, numerous jurisdictions have adopted the same legal reasoning.