Washington Supreme Court finds Pfizer Responsible for Quigley Asbestos Containing Refractory Products
Bergman Draper Oslund co-founder, Matthew Bergman, recently took a mesothelioma case to the Washington State Supreme Court and won, defeating corporate giant Pfizer in the state’s highest court. It represents a significant victory for clients in similar circumstances.
On May 15, 2018, Bergman argued before the Washington State Supreme Court and the Court issued its decision this month. A link to the Court’s opinion can be found here.
In 1968, Pfizer purchased Quigley Company, a manufacturer of asbestos-containing cements that were used throughout industry. Pfizer immediately began placing its world-renowned logo next to the Quigley logo on asbestos product advertising and packaging.
At a time when other asbestos manufacturers were affixing warnings to their products, the Pfizer-labeled asbestos products not only failed to include any warnings, but affirmatively promoted them as “non-injurious.”
Quigley filed for bankruptcy in 2004, however, in 2012 a federal court held that Pfizer could face independent legal responsibility for Quigley products inscribed with the Pfizer logo where consumers reasonably understand Pfizer to be a manufacturer of those products.
Mr. Rublee’s co-workers also testified that they saw the Pfizer logo on the bags of insulation and assumed the product was safe because a drug company made it. Pfizer’s name and trademark encourages trust and continues to be a household name for pharmaceutical products.
The Washington Court of Appeals originally found that this testimony “has little relevance to a reasonable purchaser’s understanding of the product’s manufacturer because Rublee has not shown that any of the workers had any role in any purchasing decision.”
The Washington Supreme Court accepted review and reversed the Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court agreed with Mr. Bergman’s argument that Mr. Rublee as a “reasonable consumer” believed that Pfizer was the manufacturer of the asbestos containing products that caused his mesothelioma death.
The Court also expressly adopted the Restatement (Second) of Torts § 400 “apparent manufacturer” doctrine which holds companies accountable if they hold out products as their own to consumers.
The Court also rejected Pfizer’s claim that the plaintiff must prove a “sophisticated purchaser” such as the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard must have relied on Pfizer’s representations and, instead, concluded that the issue must be viewed from the perspective of an ordinary consumer.
During the time it took Mr. Rublee’s case to make it through the lower court, Court of Appeals, and the State Supreme court, he succumbed to his cancer. Bergman Draper Oslund continued the fight on behalf of Vernon Rublee’s widow, Margaret Rublee.
Key evidence that supported the high court victory included the use of Pfizer’s logo on the bags of asbestos-containing cement and other product literature utilizing Pfizer’s well-known logo. Also essential was testimony from Mr. Rublee’s coworkers that recalled Pfizer’s branding and marks on the asbestos products.
This case is especially important for asbestos victims because Quigley filed for bankruptcy, which left its victims without recourse in the Court system. Now, asbestos victims can pursue compensation claims against Pfizer as the apparent manufacturer of Insulag and Panelag products.
The cement sold by Pfizer and its subsidiary Quigley, exposed Vernon Rublee to asbestos on the job for more than a decade. Mr. Bergman’s argument that objective reliance should be judged from the standing of an ordinary person rather than a sophisticated industrial buyer persuaded the court to overturn lower court decisions.