Defendant Entitled to Defense as Contractor to U.S. Government, Plaintiff Not Entitled to Recovery for Injuries Suffered from Exposure to Chemicals in California

In a recent case before the California Court of Appeal, the court addressed whether the lower court had properly ruled in favor of the defendant, a company that shipped chemicals to the government that allegedly caused the plaintiff injuries while he was working for the government.

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The plaintiff alleged he was harmed while working as a machinist for a company that contracted with the United States Navy to supply insulation for stainless steel piping.  He brought a lawsuit for general negligence and strict liability manufacturing and design defect claims, including claims for failing to warn of the hazards of the chemical use. First, the court analyzed whether the defendant was a government contractor, entitled to the defense that shields military contractors from state tort law liability when there is a defect in military equipment that has been supplied to the United States.

The court quoted the lower court’s finding that the defendant met the “government contractor defense,” which includes the elements of having the United States approve specifications, having equipment conforming to those specifications, and having warned the United States of the dangers in using equipment known to the supplier but not to the United States.  The lower court had determined that the defendant met these elements and was entitled to summary adjudication of the plaintiff’s negligence and strict liability manufacturing and design defect claims.

Turning to the plaintiff’s claims for negligence and strict liability failure to warn, the lower court had stated that the defendant would not have been able to warn of the hazards of the chemicals.  If the defendant had warned of the chemicals, it would not have prevented the plaintiff’s exposure, according to the lower court. Therefore, the judge stated, the lack of warning by the defendant was not the legal cause of the plaintiff’s injury.

The California appellate court then quoted the language of another order, from a separate case involving the defendant. This order stated that the defendant had supplied the chemicals as they conformed to the government’s order, and they did not have a duty to warn the government, since the government was “well aware” of potential hazards posed by the chemicals. The judge’s order also stated that the manufacturer of the chemical had provided warnings on the chemical’s packaging.

The order also stated that the defendant showed the government (the Navy) had full control over the specifications and uses for materials on board the nuclear submarines on which the chemicals were used.  The defendant, according to the lower court, had met its burden of showing that whether or not they provided a warning would not have affected how the chemicals were used by the government, nor would a warning have prevented the plaintiff’s alleged exposure to the chemicals.   In short, the court had determined that the defendant’s failing to warn had not caused the plaintiff’s exposure.

The court adopted the analysis of this similar case involving the defendant and added that, regarding causation, the plaintiff testified that he had not associated the products or services with the defendant while working.  The appellate court also stated that the defendant never had possession of the chemicals, and speculation by the plaintiff did not create a triable issue of material fact.  The court also stated that the plaintiff had not disputed that the defendant did not manufacture the chemicals and that the defendant had a limited relationship, as a shipping agent of a product that had been manufactured by a third party and that was never in their physical possession.

The court affirmed the summary judgment in favor of the defendant.

The work injury attorneys at Sharifi Firm offer skilled legal representation to Southern California residents seeking compensation for injuries caused by the negligent or reckless conduct of others. Contact our office to discuss your legal rights with a dedicated attorney. We provide a free, no-obligation consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Court Holds Employer Has Duty of Care to Protect Wife of Employee from “Take Home Exposure” to Asbestos, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 5, 2017

California Supreme Court Holds that Employers or Property Owners Have Duty to Prevent Foreseeable Harm of Asbestos Exposure to Members of a Worker’s Household, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, December 5, 2016

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