HIGH v. WESTINGHOUSE ELEC. CORP. No. 75991.
610 So.2d 1259 (1992)
Willie J. HIGH, et al., Petitioners, v. WESTINGHOUSE ELECTRIC CORP., et al., Respondents.
Supreme Court of Florida.
Rehearing Stricken February 5, 1993.
John W. Wilcox and J. Douglas Baldridge of Rudnick & Wolfe, Tampa, amicus curiae for Thomas Curtis, William U. Payne, Flora Payne and Lowell Payne.
We have for review High v. Westinghouse Electric Corp.,
The relevant facts in the record are as follows. Westinghouse manufactured electrical transformers and sold them to Florida Power and Light Company (FPL). From 1967 to 1983, FPL sold its electrical transformers for junk to Pepper's Steel and Alloys (Pepper's), a scrap metal salvage business. To manufacture the electrical transformers sold to FPL, Westinghouse purchased products from Monsanto, a manufacturer of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs). In a January 15, 1972, letter and indemnification agreement from Westinghouse to Monsanto, Westinghouse acknowledged that Monsanto had notified Westinghouse that the PCBs used in its products tended to persist in the environment; that care was required in their handling, possession, use, and disposition; and that tolerance limits had been or were being established for PCBs in various food products.
Studies of humans exposed to PCBs have shown numerous adverse effects, including but not limited to chloracne and other epidermal disorders, digestive disturbances, jaundice, impotence, throat and respiratory irritations, and severe headaches. It is undisputed that none of the junk transformers that FPL sold to Pepper's contained any labels, markings, or warnings of any kind that the transformers contained PCBs or that the contents might be hazardous to human health.
Willie J. High was the main truck driver for Pepper's from 1965 to 1983. As part of his duties, he picked up aluminum wire, cable, and other scrap metal. He also picked up transformers from FPL in Miami and other cities around Florida. As part of his job, High loaded and unloaded the transformers onto Pepper's truck with a forklift. Specifically, he hooked and unhooked the forklift cables. During this
In 1975, the Dade County Department of Environmental Resource Management (DERM) cited Pepper's for a number of environmental ordinance violations. In 1983, DERM, the State of Florida Environmental Regulation Department, and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) determined that Pepper's property was sufficiently contaminated with oil containing PCBs to justify commencement of federal, state, and county legal actions against FPL, Pepper's, and the owners of adjacent properties for violating county, state, and federal ordinances and laws and to demand a cleanup of the site by FPL. As a result of the media coverage given the DERM and EPA actions, High became aware that he had been exposed to PCBs while employed at Pepper's and that some of his physical and mental problems might be attributed to this exposure. Consequently, on July 9, 1983, High brought this action under strict liability and negligence theories.
The trial court granted Westinghouse's motion for summary judgment, holding as a matter of law that the ultimate disposal of the transformer was not foreseeable to the manufacturer as a reasonably intended "use." On appeal, the district court of appeal, in a split decision, affirmed. In explaining why strict liability under section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts (1965) is not applicable, the district court stated:
559 So.2d at 228. The district court concluded that
Id. at 229.
There are two questions we must address. The first is whether strict liability applies under section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts for injuries that occur in dismantling an item. The second is whether the manufacturer, Westinghouse, in this instance was negligent in failing to timely warn of dangerous contents in its product that could cause injuries in its alteration and dismantling.
While these are questions of first impression in this state, other courts have addressed similar issues. In Kalik v. Allis-Chalmers Corp.,
In Wingett v. Teledyne Industries, Inc.,
Finally, in Johnson v. Murph Metals, Inc.,
With regard to the first question and the applicability of strict liability under section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts, we find that strict liability is not applicable. Florida adopted the principles of strict liability in tort under section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts in West v. Caterpillar Tractor Co.,
The second question we must address concerns liability based on negligence. We find that a manufacturer has a duty to warn of dangerous contents in its product which could damage or injure even when the product is not used for its intended purpose.
We find that Westinghouse had a duty to timely notify the entity to whom it sold the electrical transformers, FPL in the instant case, once it was advised of the PCB contamination. The record reflects that Monsanto, the PCB manufacturer, notified Westinghouse sometime between 1970 and 1972, of the dangerous toxic propensities of PCBs used by Westinghouse. We find that Westinghouse's November 22, 1976, letter to its utility customers, including FPL, relaying PCB information was adequate notice. However, whether or not the letter was timely is a question of fact that has not been resolved by this record. As stated earlier, Monsanto informed Westinghouse sometime between 1970 and 1972 of the dangers regarding PCB contamination, and in 1976, Westinghouse informed FPL that some products were contaminated. If Westinghouse knew or should have known from its early 1970s communications with Monsanto that some mineral oil transformers contained PCBs, then it is clear from the record that Westinghouse delayed in warning FPL of the contamination of these transformers. Although we hold that Westinghouse's letter to FPL was adequate notice, we find that Westinghouse had a duty to timely notify FPL so that FPL could timely notify Pepper's of the possible danger that could occur in dismantling the transformers so that it could proceed in the prescribed manner. If this notice was not timely, then the next question is whether the lack of timely notice by Westinghouse was the proximate cause of High's injury. Given the circumstances, we find the knowledge by Westinghouse of the PCB contamination in its transformers and the timeliness of Westinghouse's notice to FPL of that contamination are issues of fact that must be resolved in this case and are not proper for summary judgment.
For the reasons expressed, we approve in part and quash in part the decision of the district court of appeal and remand for further proceedings consistent with this opinion.
It is so ordered.
SHAW, C.J., and McDONALD, GRIMES and HARDING, JJ., concur.
BARKETT, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with an opinion, in which KOGAN, J., concurs.
KOGAN, J., concurs in part and dissents in part with an opinion, in which BARKETT, J., concurs.
BARKETT, Justice, concurring in part and dissenting in part.
I, like Justice Kogan, agree with the majority's disposition of the duty-to-warn issue but also find the case presents a valid claim for strict liability.
The majority is correct in stating that section 402A of the Restatement (Second) of Torts "applies to intended uses of products for which they were produced." Majority op. at 1262 (emphasis added). The majority's deficiency, however, is in failing to define "intended uses." The prevailing view recognizes that an "intended use" includes unintended uses of a product if they were reasonably foreseeable by the defendant. See, e.g., Bloxom v. Bloxom,
As the majority apparently recognizes, foreseeability is usually a jury question. See majority op. at 1262. Neither the majority
KOGAN, J., concurs.
KOGAN, Justice, concurring in part, dissenting in part.
The central premise underlying the law of strict liability is that a for-profit enterprise is better able to shoulder, and therefore must assume strict liability for, the dangerous products it creates:
W. Page Keeton et al., Prosser and Keeton on the Law of Torts § 75, at 537 (5th ed. 1984). In other words, the "little man" should not be made to suffer when the for-profit enterprise that released a dangerous product into commerce can absorb the loss.
I see no reason why this principle should not be applied here. The facts disclose that Westinghouse released into commerce a product containing the highly dangerous chemicals called PCBs. While these chemicals were sealed inside transformers, surely Westinghouse cannot now contend that it was "unforeseeable" these transformers would some day be breached and would release their PCBs. It is obvious and foreseeable that whatever is sealed inside a container some day is likely to be released again. If people are injured by that release, then strict liability should exist.
This case is only little different from a toy manufacturer constructing a rubber ball inflated with a poisonous liquid. Obviously, the toy manufacturer does not intend for the liquid to be released; but if a child chews through the rubber coating and is poisoned by the liquid inside, I certainly believe any court in this state would hold the manufacturer strictly liable. We would not resolve such a case, as the majority does here, simply by noting that the manufacturer did not intend its product to be dismantled in this particular manner. Majority op. at 1262.
While I agree with the majority on the duty-to-warn issue, I believe the present case also presents a valid claim for strict liability. Here, transformers were created by a for-profit enterprise. Inside these transformers was a dangerous liquid. This plaintiff has alleged that he was injured when that liquid was released again into the environment. In such an instance, any injury that has resulted should be borne by the party best able to absorb the loss — the manufacturer. Accordingly, I would allow the case to proceed on an alternative theory of strict liability.
BARKETT, J., concurs.
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