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Manufacturer Of Nontoxic-Dust Mask Not Liable For Misuse

James K. Triplett, a pipefitter from 1976 to 1985 at the Colgate-Palmolive plant in Jacksonville, Ind., died of lung cancer in 1999. Triplett's widow filed a product liability suit against Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co. (3M) stating that her husband's lung cancer was caused by exposure to asbestos. She also said that her husband used a 3M Model 8500 particle mask while removing asbestos at Colgate-Palmolive, and that the mask did not adequately protect him from exposure to asbestos dust.

3M asked the federal trial court to grant summary judgment for it, asserting that the Model 8500 mask was marketed for filtration of nontoxic dust and was not defective. The mask label stated: "Note: for toxic dusts and vapors, use MESA/ NIOSH approved mask." Triplett's co-workers testified that Colgate-Palmolive employees used the 8500 mask while removing asbestos because it was on hand, or because their supervisors told them to wear what was on hand.

The U.S. District Court for the Western District of Kentucky ruled for 3M stating: "We reject the notion that the 8500 mask was defective because it did not provide protection against exposures beyond those for which the product was designed."

The court also rejected Mrs. Triplett's claim that 3M had a duty to warn the Colgate-Palmolive employees not to use the 8500 mask for removing asbestos. According to the court, even if 3M knew of the misuse of its product at the Colgate-Palmolive plant, Mrs. Triplett's claim was barred by the "sophisticated intermediary" doctrine. This doctrine states that there is no duty to warn when a product is sold to a knowledgeable intermediary whom the manufacturer has adequately warned. Noting that Colgate-Palmolive was required by law to have respiratory safety programs for its workers, the court stated: "we conclude that Colgate-Palmolive was a sophisticated intermediary charged with the duty of ensuring proper respiratory protection for its employees."

Triplett v. Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Co., 422 F.Supp. 2d 779 (W.D.Ky. 2006), U.S. District Court, Western District of Kentucky, Feb. 2, 2006.
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