What Is the Duty of a Company That Knows That Its Product Will Be Used As a Component of a Defective Product ?
In Adams v. Northern Illinois Gas Co., 211 Ill. 2d 32, 55, 809 N.E.2d 1248, 284 Ill. Dec. 302 (2004), the odorant added by the gas company caused the corrosion of a brazed brass connector between the customer's kitchen range and the internal hard pipe gas source. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 37-38.
The corrosion caused the connector to leak and led to an explosion that killed the resident.
The record showed that the gas company knew of the risk of corrosion to brass brazed connectors exposed to the natural gas odorant.
The notice was in the form of internal company reports, letters from the American Gas Association to the company, and other explosions linked to failed brass connectors in the company's service area. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 39-41.
In fact, the gas company told officials of a local municipality that it was aware of the connector hazard and would instruct its service and construction personnel to alert customers to the need to replace the connectors. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 41.
The trial court granted the gas company summary judgment on the ground that, because the connector belonged to the decedent rather than the company, the company did not owe the decedent a legal duty to warn her that her connector was potentially hazardous. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 42.
On appeal, the supreme court considered the novel issue of whether a gas company owes a duty to warn its customer of the possible deterioration of the customer's fixtures when the fixtures are damaged, in part, due to the gas product itself. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 50.
The Adams court ruled that the gas company's knowledge of a leak or defect that would trigger such a duty may be actual or constructive. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 49.
The supreme court concluded that, "while no issue exists in Adams regarding a duty to inspect every connector, we agree with the following from Halliburton v. Public Service Co. of Colorado, 804 P.2d 213 (Colo. App. 1990):
'When a party can reasonably foresee that its product will be used as an integral component of a defective and unreasonably dangerous product, there is a duty upon that party to undertake corrective action to alleviate, if possible, the hazard.'" Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 53, quoting Halliburton, 804 P.2d at 216. the duty is simply to use reasonable care in dealing with the hazard, which includes a duty to warn. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 53.
The court ruled that the gas company owed the decedent the duty to warn of the connector hazard.
There was no dispute that the company had actual knowledge of the danger that sulfides in the odorant would corrode the brazed connectors, ultimately causing the connectors to leak gas.
The defect meant that the connectors were certain to fail, the only issue was when. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 54. the court stated that "based on its superior knowledge and the fact that it helped to create the dangerous condition, we hold that the gas company owed a common law duty of reasonable care with respect to the brazed connectors." Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 54.
The court expressed no opinion as to whether the company had breached that duty. Adams, 211 Ill. 2d at 54.