Louisiana Liability Lawsuit Against Sand Supplier for Silicosis Dismissed

In nearly all cases, sand on a beach is enjoyable and safe. Sand used for sandblasting, however, creates dust that, upon being inhaled by an unprotected worker, increases the risk of lung disease or other lung-based medical concerns. The Louisiana Court of Appeal decided in Bates v. E. D. Bullard Co., that the possibility of problems does not make the sale of a product like sand unreasonable, especially when that use is outside the normal, non-technical purpose.

Wilbert Bates worked for the SBA Shipyards during the 1980s doing tasks that included cleaning and sandblasting. Both types of duties exposed him to silica dust — pieces of sand so small that he inhaled them and they stuck in his lungs that led to silicosis. Silicosis is an industrial disease that leaves its victims short of breath due to small sand particles becoming lodged in the lungs. The presence of particles encourages the growth of fibrous tissue in the lungs, reducing lung capacity. A lifetime of work can result in wheezing and body strain in an attempt to get air.

Bates and his wife sued Specialty Sand Co. and Southern Silica of Louisiana, Inc., which provided sand to the shipyard. The Bateses claimed that the sand was unreasonably dangerous or defective because the sand companies failed to warn and instruct him and the shipyard of the potential hazards.

These types of cases are known as product liability claims. Companies cannot sell products that are unreasonably dangerous or defective; if a product’s danger can be reduced through education, the manufacturer may protect itself with proper warnings and instructions addressed to the person who uses the product directly. In their response to this case, the sand suppliers claimed they had no duty to warn Bates or the shipyard of the dangers of using sand for sandblasting. The 31st Judicial District Court, Parish of Jefferson Davis agreed, leading the Bates’ to appeal.

In 1998’s Damond v. Avondale Industries, Inc., the court concluded that a sand supplier had no duty as a matter of law to warn its customer, who used the sand for sandblasting, of potential harms that could come about from extraordinary usage. The sand that was sold was ordinary sand and, thus, not unreasonably dangerous. The target concern for court analysis, then, came from how the sand was used.

Regulations under the Occupational Safety Health Act (OSHA) provided enough warning by requiring respiratory protection during sandblasting, the Damond court explained, and the sand purchaser would know those rules. In fact, the purchaser was a sophisticated user, skilled in using the product, to whom there is no duty to warn. Finally, the supplier could not control employee use of the sand and had no practical means to warn them. The court held that the sand supplier had no duty to warn the end user.

The Bateses gave four reasons why the district court was wrong to dismiss the sand suppliers. Using Damond and related cases, the Court of Appeal disagreed with them. The Louisiana Court of Appeal in other cases came to similar conclusions and declined to review those decisions, thus making the ruling/case standing as good law.

If you believe you have been harmed by a product, it is important to seek advice from a lawyer skilled in product liability cases. Challenges in these matters are abundant in claims seeking recovery for injuries from diseases contracted from long-term exposure as an employee because it may take years to notice the injury. A lawyer skilled in product liability law will help you obtain the best recovery possible.

If you have been harmed by the acts of another, call the Berniard Law Firm toll free at 1-866-574-8005 and speak with a lawyer who can help you get the recovery you deserve.