On June 3, 2020, the New Jersey Supreme Court ruled that “manufacturers and distributors can be found strictly liable for failure to warn of the dangers of their products, including their asbestos-containing components and a third party’s replacement components.” Under a four-part test established by the Court, to prevail a plaintiff must prove: “(1) the manufacturers or distributors incorporated asbestos-containing components in their original products; (2) the asbestos-containing components were integral to the product and necessary for it to function; (3) routine maintenance of the product required replacing the original asbestos-containing components with similar asbestos-containing components; and (4) the exposure to the asbestos-containing components or replacement components was a substantial factor in causing or exacerbating the plaintiff’s disease.” Although the case focused on asbestos-related products, the impact on products liability for manufacturers and distributors may ultimately be much more far-reaching.

The underlying suit, Whelan v. Armstrong Int’l, 242 N.J. 311 (2020), involved plaintiff Arthur Whelan’s claims that he was exposed to asbestos while working on products that several defendants—including Ford Motor Co.—allegedly manufactured or distributed with asbestos-containing components integral to the function of the products. The trial court granted summary judgment for each defendant, and the Appellate Division reversed.

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