In October 2016, Lipsitz & Ponterio hosted a discussion with a group of students and their professor from Buffalo State College on the subject of the ethical responsibilities that a manufacturer has to the users of its products. Professor Barry Yavener contacted the firm after seeing one of our television commercials. Professor Yavener’s interest was piqued by the statement that “the asbestos industry knew all about the health hazards of asbestos, going back to the 1930s, and failed to protect workers.” He believed his students would benefit from learning about products liability law and how it holds companies accountable for the products they introduce into the stream of commerce.
Barry Yavener, who has taught at Buffalo State College for thirty-two years, is a professor in the Interior Design Department. He teaches TEC 319 – Technology and Values, a course focusing on the social and ethical impacts of technology. The students who participated in the discussion are in their junior and senior years. Most are majoring in Industrial Education, which prepares them to teach industrial arts in middle and high school. One of the students is majoring in Industrial Technology with a focus on Quality Control. They were all familiar with the exploding Ford Pinto gas tank and the failure of the O-rings that led to the Challenger disaster in 1986. All of the students were interested in the ethical and moral dilemma of the corporate employee who believes his employer is making and selling a potentially dangerous product. How does he make his concerns known? What if they are waived aside? What are the risks of blowing the whistle?
John Lipsitz began his presentation with an introduction to products liability law with several examples of defective products and how they entered the market. The students then carried the discussion forward with many interesting and challenging questions and insights.