Simonetta v. Viad Corp

In Simonetta v. Viad Corp. (Wash. 2008) 197 P.3d 127, a Navy fireman and machinist contracted lung cancer after he performed maintenance on an evaporator during his 20 years of service. His job required that he "'pry or hack away'" the asbestos insulation surrounding the evaporator. The asbestos was not manufactured by the defendant. (Ibid.) The defendant's own expert testified that "the evaporator required insulation to function properly, that such insulation contained asbestos, that the company knew or should have known of the use, and that the insulation would be disturbed during normal maintenance." (Id. at p. 131.) The court found that the evaporator manufacturer had no duty to warn. (Id. at p. 138.) In Simonetta v. Viad Corp, plaintiff Simonetta served as a fireman and machinist mate on a United States Navy ship, the USS Saufley, in 1958 and 1959, where he performed maintenance on an evaporator that converted sea water to fresh water. In 1941 or 1942, when the Saufley was built, the defendant's predecessor manufactured the evaporator, which was insulated with asbestos products manufactured by another company and installed by the Navy or another entity. To service the evaporator, Simonetta pried or hacked away asbestos insulation with a hammer and then reinsulated the machine. Simonetta was diagnosed with lung cancer, which his medical expert testified was caused by his exposure to asbestos while in the Navy. Simonetta filed strict liability and negligence claims against defendant Viad Corporation (Viad) for failure to warn of the hazards of asbestos exposure, but did not know the identity of the company that manufactured or installed the insulation on the evaporator. (Id., 197 P.3d at p. 130.) Simonetta appealed the grant of summary judgment for Viad on the issue of duty to warn. The Court of Appeal reversed the judgment, and its judgment was in turn reversed by the Washington Supreme Court. Simonetta stated the rule of strict liability with respect to unreasonably dangerous products: "a product, though faultlessly manufactured and designed, may not be reasonably safe when placed in the hands of the ultimate user without first giving an adequate warning concerning the manner in which to safely use the product. Liability is imposed on parties in the chain of distribution, including sellers, wholesale or retail dealers or distributors, and manufacturers." (Simonetta, supra, 197 P.3d at p. 134.) Liability for failure to provide this warning, however, does not extend to failure to warn of dangers inherent in another product not manufactured, supplied, or sold by the defendant. Viad sold the evaporator without insulation and did not manufacture, sell, or select the asbestos insulation. Simonetta determined that the asbestos insulation, not Viad's evaporator, caused the plaintiff's injury. (Id. at pp. 136, 138.) Viad was not in the chain of distribution of the dangerous product, and therefore could not be held strictly liable for failing to warn about asbestos contained in another manufacturer's product. (Id. at pp. 138, 134.)