What Factors Should Be Considered In Evaluating the Liability of Component Suppliers ?
In Artiglio v. General Electric Co. (1998) 61 Cal. App. 4th 830, 71 Cal. Rptr. 2d 817 plaintiffs were women who received silicone breast implants manufactured by McGhan Medical Corporation.
Plaintiffs filed suit against General Electric Company (GE), the supplier of the silicone used in manufacturing the implants, contending it was liable in negligence for failing to disclose to its customers information about the potential dangers posed by use of silicone in medical devices. (Artiglio, 61 Cal. App. 4th at p. 833.)
The Artiglio court first noted that some cases have held that manufacturers of component parts owe a duty to warn about the potential hazards of their products.
"However, the duty of a component manufacturer or supplier to warn about the hazards of its products is not unlimited.
As one court stated: 'Making suppliers of inherently safe raw materials and component parts pay for the mistakes of the finished product manufacturer would not only be unfair, but it also would impose an intolerable burden on the business world . . . . Suppliers of versatile materials like chains, valves, sand, gravel, etc., cannot be expected to become experts in the infinite number of finished products that might conceivably incorporate their multi-use raw materials or components.' (In re TMJ Implants Products Liability Litigation (8th Cir. 1996) 97 F.3d 1050, 1057.)
Thus, cases have subjected claims made against component suppliers to two related doctrines, the 'raw material supplier defense' and 'the bulk sales/sophisticated purchaser rule.'
Although the doctrines are distinct, their application oftentimes overlaps and together they present factors which should be carefully considered in evaluating the liability of component suppliers.
Those factors include whether the raw materials or components are inherently dangerous, whether the materials are significantly altered before integration into an end product, whether the supplier was involved in designing the end-product and whether the manufacturer of the end product was in a position to discover and disclose hazards.