On June 11, 2019, New York State’s highest court, the Court of Appeals, affirmed that manufacturers of coke ovens have a duty to warn about the latent dangers of their products. Coke ovens are vast, industrial ovens that are used to transform coal into coke, a solid fuel used in the manufacture of steel. Until the imposition of engineering controls and the mandatory use of respiratory protection in the late 1970’s, the ovens, when used s intended, exposed the workers to dangerous cancer-causing emissions.

Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, LLC represents the Estate of Donald Terwilliger. Mr. Terwilliger spent most of his career as a coke oven worker at Bethlehem Steel in Lackawanna, New York. Beginning in 1966, Mr. Terwilliger was exposed to carcinogenic emissions released by the coke ovens. Despite knowing that its ovens posed a deadly hazard, the ovens’ manufacturer never warned workers, like Mr. Terwilliger, about the dangers the ovens posed. When Mr. Terwilliger’s Estate sued the coke oven’s manufacturer, the defendant argued that, even if it knew that using its ovens as intended could kill the users, the manufacturer did no have any duty to warn users, because the coke ovens were so large that they should not be considered products. The oven is too big to be a product, the defendant insisted, and if it is not a product, then the company that made it is entitled to sell it in a dangerous condition.

On June 11, 2019, after a multi-year legal battle, the Court of Appeals rejected this argument and confirmed the longstanding New York rule that a manufacturer has a duty to warn about the latent dangers of the machinery it sells – even if its machines are very large, or are constructed into a larger building. This decision is a victory for the rights of New Yorkers injured by industrial negligence. John N. Lipsitz, Dennis P. Harlow, and Mathew J. Morton handled this appeal.

If you were a coke oven worker and have been diagnosed with mesothelioma or lung cancer, Lipsitz, Ponterio & Comerford, LLC can help you. We will actively pursue all eligible claims and seek to hold the coke oven manufacturers responsible for their actions.

If you would like to read more, the link to the Terwilliger decision is: https://www.nycourts.gov/ctapps/Decisions/2019/Jun19/36opn19-Decision.pdf