Fowler v. Akzo Nobel Chemicals, Inc.Annotate this Case
In June 2011, Thomasenia Fowler, as administrator of her husband Willis Edenfield’s estate, initiated a wrongful death/product liability action against Union Carbide, a manufacturer and supplier of asbestos that Edenfield handled as a daily part of his 40-year job at an adhesive manufacturing plant (the Bloomfield Plant). In 1968, Union Carbide began placing a warning on its asbestos bags. In compliance with an emergency standard imposed by OSHA, the company changed the warning in 1972. The change notwithstanding, an in-house staff-member of Union Carbide notified the company that its warning inadequately addressed the lethal dangers of asbestos exposure, but Union Carbide declined to upgrade its label. Union Carbide presented evidence that it periodically provided information and various safety warnings about its asbestos products to Edenfield’s employers and requested that the information and warnings be made available to the employees. The issue this case presented for the New Jersey Supreme Court’s review centered on whether a manufacturer or supplier that puts inadequate warnings on its asbestos products used in the workplace can fulfill its duty to warn by disseminating adequate information to the employer with the intention that such information will reach the workers using those products. The Court also considered whether, in charging on medical causation in this mesothelioma case, the trial court was required to give the frequency, regularity, and proximity language in Sholtis v. American Cyanamid Co., 238 N.J. Super. 8, 28-29 (App. Div. 1989), rather than the substantial factor test in the Model Civil Charge, as modified by the court. As to the duty to warn, the Court held that an asbestos manufacturer or supplier that places inadequate warnings on asbestos bags used in the workplace has breached its duty to the worker, regardless of whether it provides the employer with the correct information, which is reasonably intended to reach its employees. As to medical causation, the trial court’s modified Model Jury Charge on proximate cause sufficiently guided the jury.