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Smith v. Walter C. Best Inc.

argued: October 9, 1990.

DAVID H. SMITH AND LOUISE SMITH, HIS WIFE
v.
WALTER C. BEST, INC., A CORPORATION, PENNSYLVANIA GLASS SAND CORPORATION, A CORPORATION AND COMBUSTION ENGINEERING, INC., A CORPORATION, THIRD PARTY DEFENDANTS, MANLEY BROTHERS, KEENER SAND AND CLAY CO., WHITEHEAD BROTHERS, NEGLEY FIRE CLAY COMPANY, MAGNECO METREL, INC., AMERICAN COLLOID AND CEDAR HEIGHTS CO. (D.C. CIVIL NO. 85-02366) DAVID H. SMITH AND LOUISE SMITH, HIS WIFE V. WHITEHEAD BROTHERS COMPANY. (D.C. CIVIL NO. 87-00497) DAVID H. SMITH AND LOUISE SMITH, HIS WIFE V. MANLEY BROTHERS. (D.C. CIVIL NO. 87-00611) DAVID H. SMITH AND LOUISE SMITH, HIS WIFE, APPELLANTS



Appeal from the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania. Previously[Table].

Mansmann, Alito and Garth, Circuit Judges.

Author: Mansmann

Opinion OF THE COURT

MANSMANN, Circuit Judge

In this products liability action, we are asked to review the district court's determination that Ohio law does not recognize a cause of action based upon strict liability for failure to warn and to examine the district court's evaluation of the sophisticated purchaser defense in the context of negligent failure to warn.

Recent Ohio case law establishes the viability of a claim based upon strict liability for failure to warn; the standard governing the manufacturer's duty under this theory is identical to that applicable in cases alleging negligent failure to warn. While the district court erred in predicting that the Ohio Supreme Court would not recognize such a claim, we conclude that this error was harmless. The district court properly resolved the claim of negligent failure to warn by granting summary judgment for the defendants. We predict that the same result would obtain in Ohio under a theory of strict liability for failure to warn. We will, therefore, affirm the order of the district court.

I.

On October 4, 1985, David Smith and his wife filed suit in the United States District Court for the Western District of Pennsylvania claiming injury as a result of Mr. Smith's inhalation of silica dust contained in sand supplied by various parties to his employer, Valley Mould & Iron Company in Hubbard, Ohio.

During the period from 1956 until 1984, Mr. Smith was employed at Valley Mould as a foundry laborer, caster, chainman, shake-out man, and chipper. Smith contends that in each of these jobs, he came into contact with sand and, as a result of this contact, developed silicosis.

The Smiths' original complaint named as defendants three companies allegedly having supplied sand to Valley Mould: Walter C. Best, Inc.; Pennsylvania Glass Sand Company and Combustion Engineering, Inc. Smith sought to hold these defendants liable for breach of warranty, negligence, and strict liability based upon their failure to provide him with direct warnings concerning the consequences of long-term inhalation of silica dust.

In July, 1986, Best and Pennsylvania Glass Sand filed a complaint in order to join as third-party defendants, Manley Brothers, Whitehead Brothers, Keener Sand and Clay Company, Negley Fire Clay Company, Magneco Metrel, Inc., American Colloid, and Cedar Heights Company.*fn1 In March, 1987, Smith filed two additional complaints adding Whitehead and Manley as defendants and on June 30, 1987, Pennsylvania Glass Sand filed a motion for summary judgment on behalf of itself and the remaining defendants.

In January, 1990, the three pending actions were consolidated for all purposes and summary judgment was granted in favor of defendants Pennsylvania Glass Sand and Best and third-party defendants Manley, Keener and Whitehead. In awarding summary judgment, the district court concluded that Pennsylvania choice of law principles required that the claims presented be evaluated under the substantive law of Ohio and that Ohio law does not recognize the application of strict liability to claims premised on a failure to warn. The court also found that the defendant sand suppliers had no duty to warn Smith of potential hazards associated with inhalation of silica dust as Smith was employed by a knowledgeable purchaser of silica-containing sand.

It is from the January, 1990 grant of summary judgment ...


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