Parker Convinces Calif. Supreme Court to Review "Sophisticated Intermediary Case" Case

Posted on Thursday, 21 August 2014


June 2013. Hugo Parker's James C. Parker has convinced the California Supreme Court to accept review of a case that could lead to adoption of the "sophisticated intermediary" defense in California.  Parker won a nonsuit before a Los Angeles Superior Court judge following a jury trial in which a Wisconsin broker of asbestos to Johns-Manville had been found liable to a Los Angeles plaintiff who had developed mesothelioma from working around asbestos-containing transite pipe made by Johns-Manville.  The sale of the asbestos to Johns-Manville had occurred in the mid-1970s, well after Johns-Manville, then the country’s leading manufacturer of asbestos products, had become knowledgeable of the health hazards of asbestos and had begun warning its own employees.  The jury concluded that the broker was not liable for design defects of the transite pipe, but was liable for not warning about asbestos hazards.  The trial court granted a nonsuit on the duty issue — finding that warning Johns-Manville would have been akin to trying to teach the Pope about Catholicism — and awarded judgment to the broker. Plaintiff appealed and the Second District in a 2-1 decision reversed the trial court, finding that the broker had a duty to warn. The Supreme Court accepted review in June 2013 to determine whether under the circumstances the sophistication and knowledge of an intermediary cuts off the duty to warn otherwise owed by a supplier. In 2010 the Supreme Court decided that the sophistication of an end-user would cut off liability of a manufacturer for a defective product.   (Johnson v. American Standard, Inc. (2010) 43 Cal.3d 56.)   Two other court of appeal decision since Johnson have agreed there is a “sophisticated intermediary” defense but have not agreed on it elements or applicability. (Stewart v. Union Carbide Corp (2010) 190 Cal.App.4th 23; and Pfeifer v. John Crane, Inc. (2013) 220 Cal.App.4th 1270.)


Briefing in Webb was completed in mid-2014; the Supreme Court has not yet set oral argument.


(Webb v. Special Electric, Inc., Supreme Court, Case No. S 20992)

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