A recent unanimous decision by a California appellate court reversed summary judgment in favor of a defendant in a benzene exposure case after finding that the defendant failed to satisfy the first element of the component parts doctrine.
In Brady v. Calsol, Inc. (Oct. 7, 2015, B262028) __Cal.App.4th __ [194 Cal.Rptr.3d 243] (Brady), the Court of Appeal held that Defendant, Calsol, Inc. ("Calsol"), who was represented by David Wood of Wood, Smith, Henning & Berman LLP, failed to show that its product – mineral spirits – was not inherently dangerous.
With this published decision, defendants in non-asbestos toxic tort cases may now face a more difficult burden in asserting the component parts doctrine as a defense.
Brady involved the personal injury claims brought by two sets of plaintiffs, who both alleged they developed acute myelogenous leukemia as a result of using a Safety-Kleen parts washer in conjunction with Safety-Kleen 105 Solvent during their employment as mechanics. Specifically, both the plaintiffs alleged that the solvent contained mineral spirits, which in turn, contained benzene. The plaintiffs sued Safety-Kleen and its suppliers, including Calsol, which distributed the mineral spirits to Safety-Kleen. The trial court granted Calsol's summary judgment based on the component parts doctrine.
At issue in Brady was whether the component parts doctrine required a showing that the component is not "inherently dangerous." Calsol argued that under the Restatement Third of Torts, which established the component parts doctrine, a defendant simply needed to show that its product did not contain a defect. Among other things, Calsol relied on a comment in the Restatement that stated that a "basic raw material such as sand, gravel, or kerosene cannot be defectively designed." However, the Court disagreed with Calsol, finding that although California courts generally adopted the component parts doctrine as articulated in the Restatement, Calsol basically ignored how the courts have applied the doctrine. Specifically, the Court found that the application of the components parts doctrine required a supplier to satisfy the four factors identified in
Artiglio v. General Electric Co. (1998) 61 Cal.App.4th 830, 839 (Artiglio): (1) the component was not inherently dangerous; (2) the component was sold in bulk to a sophisticated buyer; (3) the component was substantially changed during the manufacturing process; and (4) the supplier had a limited role in developing and designing the finished product. Moreover, the Court found that Calsol's reliance on a comment Restatement was not binding, noting that at most, the Restatement should be considered as "argumentative authority."
Accordingly, based on the Artiglio factors, the Court found that the summary judgment based on the component parts doctrine was improper because Calsol failed to satisfy the first element that its mineral spirits were not "inherently dangerous."