In the 1970s, Special Electric Company brokered the sale of crocidolite asbestos, which is the most toxic form of asbestos, to Johns-Manville Corporation. Special Electric never held possession of the asbestos, only receiving a commission for the sale of it from a mining company in South Africa to JohnsManville. Bags of crocidolite did not bear OSHA warning labels until the 1980s.

One of Johns-Manville’s signature products was Transite pipe. Although the formula for Transite pipe did not call for crocidolite, traces of it could be found because recycled materials from other damaged products were used to make it. Johns-Manville sold Transite pipe to various distributors, one of which sold the pipe to Pyramid Pipe & Supply Co. The plaintiff of this case, William B. Webb, was a warehouse and truck driving employee at Pyramid Pipe. He handled Transite pipe for a decade. The pipe had no warning labels despite leaving a dusty residue when handled. Additionally, Webb was not informed that Transite dust could cause cancer, and he was not instructed to wear a respirator.
In 2011, Webb was diagnosed with mesothelioma, a fatal cancer usually caused by inhaling asbestos. Webb and his wife subsequently sued multiple companies under strict liability and negligence claims, finally coming to trial against Special Electric and two other companies. Although the jury returned a verdict in favor of Webb, the court granted a judgement notwithstanding the verdict in favor of Special Electric, asserting that Special Electric was not liable for failure to warn. After a series of appeals, the case was heard by the California Supreme Court.

To what extent do you think a supplier of raw materials should be held liable to the ultimate users of the finished product? Look up the sophisticated intermediary defense. Do you think this defense applies in this case? [Webb v. Special Electric Co., Inc., 63 Cal. 4th 167 (2016).]

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