Unlike rulings recently made in countless other states, the California Supreme Court determined last week that companies can be held liable if asbestos from a job site causes an individual in the worker’s home to become sick.
It’s a huge victory for those who’ve gotten sick from indirect exposure to the toxin and will allow many secondhand asbestos victims to move forward through the California courts, reports an article in the Los Angeles Times.
Though the suits are limited to members of the worker’s household who lived with that worker (spouse, sibling, child, etc.) the decision is a major boon for those who’ve been advocating for such a ruling.
Justice Goodwin Liu wrote the decision on behalf of the Golden State’s Supreme Court. He said: “Employers have a duty to take reasonable care” to prevent workers from carrying home asbestos on their clothing or other personal effects.
He acknowledged, in his dissertation, that “to be sure, there are other persons who may have reason to believe they were exposed to significant quantities of asbestos by repeatedly spending time in an enclosed space with an asbestos worker — for example, a regular carpool companion,”
But Liu reiterated that the rule would limit litigation and protect “an identifiable category of people … most likely to have suffered a legitimate, compensable harm.”
The Supreme Court ruling was a result of two separate cases in the lower California courts. One involved a 53-year-old man who passed away in 2014 after developing secondhand peritoneal mesothelioma three years prior. The plaintiff, Johnny Blaine Kesner Jr., claims to have spent three nights a week with his uncle, who was employed by Pneumo Abex LLC of Virginia, a maker of automobile brakes. Kesner claimed he also “rough-housed” with his uncle while he was wearing his work clothes. This exposure took place from 1973 through 1979.
The other case involved Lynn Haver and was filed by her children. Haver succumbed to mesothelioma in April 2009 after being diagnosed with the disease just a year before. The suit claimed the woman suffered exposure from the dust on the clothes of her former husband, who was employed by the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe railroad in the early to mid-1970s. During that time, he worked with pipe insulation and other asbestos-containing products normally used in the railroad industry.
Not everyone was pleased by the ruling. The attorney for Pneumo Abex LLC called it a departure from what a majority of other states are doing and said that the ruling was likely to spark an influx of new lawsuits from those who suffered indirect exposure.
But Ted Pelletier, who represented Kesner, hopes companies who failed to provide showers and other safety precautions for those who regularly came into contact with toxic asbestos dust will finally be made to pay for their negligence.
The decision means “wives and children and husbands who were needlessly and preventably poisoned can seek justice,” Pelletier said.