Hindsight: 6 Years Ago
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Hindsight: 6 Years Ago

April 2014

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On April 3, 2008, the California Supreme Court unanimously adopted the so-called "sophisticated user" defense in product liability cases. (Johnson v. American Standard, Inc., 46 Cal. 4th 46 (2008).) The court held that a manufacturer is not required to warn of dangers that a sophisticated user knew about - or should have known of.

William Johnson, who contracted pulmonary fibrosis, claimed he didn't know that heating a part of a commercial air conditioning system while repairing it would cause refrigerant chemicals to decompose into dangerous phosgene gas. He said American Standard had failed to warn him of this hazard, but the court ruled that, as a trained and certified ventilation technician, he should have known what he was working with.

The decision formed the basis for a California Civil Jury Instruction (CACI 1244) now used in both strict liability and negligence cases.

Broad application of the defense is still in flux, however: The state Supreme Court plans to review one asbestos case involving a "sophisticated" intermediary between the manufacturer and the end user. (Webb v. Special Electric Co., 214 Cal. App. 4th 595 (2013).) And a petition for review is pending in another (Pfeifer v. John Crane, Inc., 220 Cal. App. 4th 1270 (2013)).

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