The California Supreme Court is currently considering the case of Webb v. Special Electric Co., where two issues on appeal are related to the duty to warn. First is whether a supplier of a component part or raw or bulk material owes a duty to warn the purchaser of that component or material who is a sophisticated user of that part or material. Second is whether the supplier owes the ultimate user or consumer of the subsequently completed product a duty to warn of the potential dangers of the use of that finished product and, if so, whether the sale to the sophisticated user obviates the need or discharges the duty to make any such warning.
The question of what duties a supplier owes and to whom and in what circumstances remains a current hot debate in products liability litigation around the country. This is particularly true when that supplier is selling to purchasers who are sophisticated users and who incorporate the part or material into other products or resell the part or material to others who do so. When selling a part or material to a sophisticated user, should suppliers still be held liable for a duty to warn? With absolutely no control over the manufacturing process and no contact with or connection to the ultimate end user, should suppliers still be held liable for a duty to warn?