Manufacturer's Duty to Possess Expert Knowledge of Its Product

Florida court's have recognized that "a manufacturer has the duty to possess expert knowledge in the field of its product." Advance Chemical Co. v. Harter, 478 So. 2d 444, 448 (Fla. 1st DCA 1985). In Dartez v. Fibreboard Corp., 765 F.2d 456, 461 (5th Cir. 1985), the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals stated the following: Defendants contend that Smith's testimony is irrelevant because it relates only to Johns-Manville. Their contention reflects a misunderstanding of a critical issue in any product liability action: the state of the art pertaining to any possible risks associated with the product. Dartez was required to establish that the dangers of asbestos were reasonably foreseeable or scientifically discoverable at the time of his exposure before these defendants could be found liable. Borel v. Fibreboard Paper Products Corp., 493 F.2d 1076, 1088 (5th Cir. 1973), cert. denied, 419 U.S. 869, 95 S. Ct. 127, 42 L. Ed. 2d 107 (1974). Borel holds all manufacturers to the knowledge and skill of an expert. They are obliged to keep abreast of any scientific discoveries and are presumed to know the results of all such advances. Moreover, they each bear the duty to fully test their products to uncover all scientifically discoverable dangers before the products are sold. 493 F.2d at 1089-90. The actual knowledge of an individual manufacturer is not the issue. If the dangers of asbestos were known to Johns-Manville at the time of Dartez's exposure, then the same risks were scientifically discoverable by other asbestos corporations. Therefore, the testimony of the medical director of the industry's largest member is relevant to plaintiff's attempt to meet the evidentiary burden defined by Borel. Even relevant evidence may be excluded if its probative value is outweighed by the danger that it will unfairly prejudice or confuse the jury. Fed. R. Evid. 403. However, because Rule 403 permits the exclusion of probative evidence, it is an extraordinary remedy that must be used sparingly. United States v. Thevis, 665 F.2d 616, 633 (5th Cir.), cert. denied, 459 U.S. 825, 103 S. Ct. 57, 74 L. Ed. 2d 61 (1982). Smith's testimony has a significant probative value in the jury's assessment of the state of the art. Dartez used only those portions of the deposition that were relevant to this issue. Defendants assert that this testimony was prejudicial because it allowed the jury to find these defendants liable for the knowledge and conduct of Johns-Manville. But this argument misses the point of Borel --the knowledge of one manufacturer can be a proper basis for concluding that another manufacturer should have warned of a specific danger. Rule 403 is designed to exclude evidence that has an "undue tendency to suggest decision on an improper basis . . . ." Fed. R. Evid. 403 advisory committee note. Smith's testimony, while contrary to defendants' interest, cannot be construed as unfairly prejudicial under this standard.