Jury Assesses $2M Verdict Against Company that Patented, but Did Not Manufacture, Asbestos-Containing Products: Saldibar, et al v. A.O. Smith Corp., et al

244234_7882.jpgIn a Connecticut lawsuit alleging products liability and wrongful death for alleged asbestos exposure, Saldibar, et al v. A.O. Smith Corp., et al, a court denied a motion for summary judgment brought by a defendant that held patents on asbestos-containing products, but never manufactured them. The defendant, a trade association, alleged that it was not a “seller” as defined by Connecticut products liability law. A jury later found for the plaintiffs, and the court entered a judgment awarding them more than $2.2 million. The decision regarding the trade association defendant could significantly alter Connecticut products liability law by expanding the range of potential defendants.

The decedent, Hannibal Saldibar, was allegedly exposed to asbestos from various products when he served in the U.S. Navy as a petty officer from 1943 to 1946, and during the time he worked as a tile setter from his Navy discharge until 1979. He filed suit with his wife, Eleanor Saldibar, in April 2009 against various defendants for alleged violations of the Connecticut Product Liability Act (CPLA), Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572m. After Saldibar died from mesothelioma in 2010, the executor of his estate, Gail Acquarulo, substituted as a plaintiff. The lawsuit also alleged that the defendants possessed knowledge of the hazards of asbestos as far back as 1929, and it therefore claimed gross, wanton, willful, and malicious negligence.

One of the defendants, Tile Council of North America, moved for summary judgment in January 2010, arguing that it was not a “product seller” under the CPLA because it was not a “manufacturer, wholesaler, distributor, or retailer” of products. Conn. Gen. Stat. § 52-572m(a). It was, it claimed, a trade association that merely held a patent on mortar used in tile setting. The plaintiffs responded that the CPLA includes companies that hold themselves out as manufacturers. Tile Council replied that it never publicly presented itself as a manufacturer.