Wednesday, June 29, 2011

TN Supreme Court Reviews the Jury Instructions in a Strict Products Liability Case Involving Asbestos


In this products liability case, a widow sought compensation for the death of her husband from mesothelioma allegedly caused by exposure to asbestos at his workplace. She sued the company that sold products containing asbestos to her husband's employer. She based her claim on strict liability and alleged that the seller sold defective products and failed to warn her husband of the products' health risks.

The jury found that the seller was at fault, but that her husband's employer was the sole cause of his injury and awarded her nothing. The widow appealed. The Court of Appeals reversed and remanded for a new trial based on erroneous jury instructions that more probably than not affected the judgment of the jury.

On review, we hold that the seller was subject to suit in strict liability, pursuant to Tennessee Code Annotated section 29-28-106(b) (2000), because none of the products' manufacturers were subject to service of process. Further, we hold that the trial court erred by instructing the jury that the seller could not be held liable for failure to warn if the jury found that the consumer, identified as the employer, was already aware of any danger in connection with the use of the products or if the employer had been given adequate warnings.

This jury instruction was erroneous for two reasons. First, it applied the learned intermediary doctrine, which the courts of this state have limited to medical products and pharmaceuticals. Second, the jury instruction misidentified the consumer as the employer, when the consumer who was required to be warned was the employee, Mr. Nye. Because the error more probably than not affected the judgment of the jury, the judgment of the trial court is reversed and the cause is remanded for a new trial.

Opinion available at:

HOLDER concurring in part and dissenting in part:

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