The California Supreme Court recently ruled that employers using asbestos in the workplace have a duty of care to protect employees’ household members from exposure to that asbestos brought home by the employee. The court’s opinion was issued on two coordinated “take-home” asbestos cases.
• One Plaintiff, who was diagnosed with mesothelioma, linked his exposure to his uncle who brought home asbestos fibers lodged in his clothing from his work in a Pneumo Abex plant.
• The second case was filed on behalf of a mother who passed away from mesothelioma after also having been exposed to asbestos fibers found on her husband’s clothing after working at BNSF Railway Company.
The court ruled that employers have a duty to take reasonable care to prevent the transmission of asbestos where it is reasonably foreseeable that workers or their clothing will act as “vectors carrying asbestos from the premises to household members.” This duty also applies to premises owners who use asbestos on their property and extends to cover any household member, regardless of whether they are a relative.
Addressing the Defendants’ concerns that creating such a blanket duty could lead to tenuous claims, the court limited the duty only to household members who are “in close and sustained contact with the worker over a significant period of time.” The court reasoned this would limit potential Plaintiffs to an identifiable category of persons who likely suffered legitimate, compensable damage.
The court ultimately determined that the Plaintiffs’ exposures to take-home asbestos was foreseeable and that this sustained contact with asbestos increased their likelihood of contracting mesothelioma. The court rejected the Defendants’ argument that a scientific consensus is required to establish foreseeability in the context of duty analysis.
Instances such as these illustrate how easily those not directly exposed to dangerous particulates can contract deadly lung diseases. Thus, it is imperative for employers to ensure that workers exposed to such particulates decontaminate themselves and do not endanger the health of their household members.
Lawyers in our Toxic Torts section are investigating severe lung injury cases involving workers exposed to harmful chemicals on the job. If you have any questions about these cases, contact Chris Boutwell or Ryan Kral, lawyers in the Section, at 800-898-2034 or by email at Chris.Boutwell@beasleyallen.com or Ryan.Kral@beasleyallen.com.
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