Automotive Manufacturer Had No Duty to Warn Regarding Third Party Replacement Parts Supreme Court of Delaware, April 21, 2017

The plaintiffs alleged Ford Motor Company was negligent in failing to warn decedent of the dangers posed by servicing asbestos brake parts in Ford vehicles. The decedent was a mechanic who died of mesothelioma. Ford moved for summary judgment, arguing that Ford had no duty to warn about asbestos replacement brake parts made by third parties, and the plaintiffs failed to produce evidence that decedent was exposed to Ford asbestos brake parts. The trial court ruled that Ford had no duty to warn about third party replacement parts, but denied the remainder of the motion. After a jury trial verdict in favor of Ford, the plaintiffs appealed the summary judgment ruling that Ford had no duty to warn regarding third party suppliers. The appellate court affirmed.

The plaintiffs argued Ford had a legal duty to warn about the vehicle as a whole, not just component parts, because the vehicle was designed to work with asbestos-containing component parts. Ford responded with the “bare metal” defense 0151 a manufacturer has no duty to warn about potential dangers from exposure to a part of its product if the manufacturer did not make or distribute the part.

The court did not address the central question of the appeal — whether an automobile manufacturer such as Ford had a duty to warn about the dangers associated with replacement parts made by third parties for use in Ford vehicles. Since the jury determined that Ford was not negligent in failing to warn about original and replacement Ford parts, Ford could not be negligent in failing to warn about third party parts. The court accepted Ford’s point — that any error was harmless in light of the jury’s finding that Ford was not negligent. Since the jury found no duty, it did not reach the issue of causation.

Read the full decision here.


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