California Court Holds Employer as Premises Owner Did Not Owe Duty to Protect Family Member from Secondary Exposure to Asbestos

California law provides a remedy for injuries due to a landowner’s action or inaction if it creates an unreasonable risk of harm.  In these premises liability cases, courts may interpret the extent of the injury and whether it was foreseeable that the victim would be harmed.  A California Court of Appeal addressed the harm from secondary exposure to asbestos, and whether the wife of a man who was exposed to asbestos could bring a claim against her husband’s employer.

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Frank Beckering was a machinist for Shell Oil Company for nearly four decades. He died 17 years after retiring, and four years later, his wife sued Shell. Wanda Beckering brought a premises liability case, although she had not visited the Shell locations where her husband worked. Her allegations were based on the fact that after she laundered her husband’s work clothes for decades, she developed mesothelioma.

Shell requested a grant of summary judgment on the premises liability claim on the grounds that the law did not allow family members to bring actions for secondary exposure to asbestos during the course of the property owner’s business. They argued that there was no duty imposed on the premises owner to protect others from secondary exposure.  Shell based their argument on an earlier case, Campbell v. Ford Motor Co.  There, the court had ruled against the relative of an independent contractor who had laundered the clothes of two people exposed to asbestos at Ford’s facility.  The court had found no legal duty of care between the premises owner and the potentially exposed family member.

Ms. Beckering contended that, in fact, California law supports an employer’s duty of care to family members of employees to prevent their secondary asbestos exposure. She argued that the Campbell case was distinguishable based on the fact that the employer’s conduct there had been too attenuated to support a duty of care.  Here, she contended, her husband was a direct employee of Shell and worked under the direct control of Shell.  The trial court granted Shell’s motion for summary judgment, and Ms. Beckering appealed.

In reviewing whether Shell owed a duty of care to Ms. Beckering, the court turned to the elements of a cause of action for premises liability:  duty, breach, causation, and damages.  While everyone owes a duty of ordinary care to one another, the appellate court stated that the factors set forth in another California Supreme Court case determine the scope of a duty owed.  Landowners owe a duty to exercise reasonable care in maintaining their property, avoiding exposing others to an unreasonable risk of injury.

The court rejected Ms. Beckering’s contention that the Campbell case was limited to family members of independent contractors.  The court also stated that Campbell had been correctly decided and is controlling.  Since Shell did not owe Ms. Beckering a duty, the trial court’s grant of summary judgment was proper.

At Sharifi Firm, our personal injury attorneys provide guidance and representation to injured victims throughout Southern California. We are available for a free consultation. Contact our office at 1-866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

California Supreme Court Reverses Judgment for City Because Plaintiff Need Not Prove Dangerous Condition Caused Third-Party Conduct, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 20, 2015

California Court of Appeals Holds that Professional Negligence Claim Requires the Negligence Have Occurred in the Rendering of Professional Services, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, July 13, 2015

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