Washington Case Law Update: Washington Supreme Court Adopts the “Apparent Manufacturer” Doctrine in Product Liability Actions Arising Before 1981

Washington Case Law Update: Washington Supreme Court Adopts the “Apparent Manufacturer” Doctrine in Product Liability Actions Arising Before 1981

From the desk of Tom McCurdy: Washington law permits injured plaintiffs to bring product liability actions against product manufacturers when they are injured as the result of a manufacturing defect. What if a company does not manufacture a product, but holds itself out to the public as a manufacturer of the product? Will they be subject to liability as a manufacturer? Read on to find out.

Case Pointer: In this product liability action, the Washington Supreme Court adopted the apparent manufacturer doctrine for common law product liability claims predating the 1981 product liability and tort reform act (“WPLA”). This doctrine already applies to causes of action arising after 1981. It provides that an entity that presents a product to the public as its own—despite not manufacturing the product—will be subject to the same liability as the true manufacturer. This case expands the potential liability of resellers when they hold themselves out to the public as the manufacturers of the product.

Rublee v. Pfizer, Inc., et. al., 428 P.3d 1207 (2018).

In this matter, Margaret Rublee (“Plaintiff”), brought a wrongful death action against Pfizer as the surviving spouse of Vernon Rublee, who succumbed to mesothelioma related to asbestos exposure. Vernon worked as a machinist at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard from 1966 to 1980. During this time, Vernon was exposed to asbestos products manufactured, sold, and distributed by a manufacturer called Quigley. Unbeknownst to Vernon, Quigley became a fully owned subsidiary of Pfizer when Pfizer purchased the company in 1968. As part of the transition, Quigley redesigned its marketing and packaging materials to include noticeable reference to Pfizer. As Vernon observed, the name “Pfizer” was prominently printed on the bags containing the asbestos products.

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