The California Court of Appeal recently found in favor of a plaintiff who alleged that she had developed mesothelioma due to her husband’s exposure to asbestos fibers at work. The significance of this opinion is that it relies upon new case law set forth by the state Supreme Court. In light of the new law, the appellate court expanded the duty of care outside the employer-employee realm, holding that the employer may have owed a duty of care to the wife of the deceased employee.
In reviewing recent caselaw concerning the duty of care owed to family members, the court stated that we all have a duty to use due care, avoiding injuring others. Turning to the Rowland v. Christian (1968) 69 Cal.2d 108 (Rowland) factors, the court had previously held that premises owners do not need to protect family members from harm caused by contact with family members wearing asbestos-contaminated work clothes home. However, Kesner v. Superior Court (2016) 1 Cal.5th 1132 (Kesner) was recently decided, and the California Court of Appeal stated that based on that decision, the employer in this case owed the plaintiff a duty.
The plaintiff’s husband had worked as a machinist for the employer from 1954 to 1992. She and the plaintiff had been married for 60 years when he died in 2009. While the plaintiff washed his work clothes, she had not visited her husband’s workplace.
In 2013, the plaintiff brought a lawsuit against the employer for products liability and negligence on the ground that she developed mesothelioma due to her exposure to asbestos brought home on her husband’s clothing. After the employer moved for summary judgment, based on the fact that they did not owe a duty of care to the plaintiff, she alleged that there should not be an exception to the general duty of reasonable care. The trial court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, and the plaintiff appealed.
In the recent Kesner case, the court had held that while recognizing a duty to persons who experience secondary exposure could invite “mass litigation,” it did not justify exemption from liability for take-home exposure. The court had found that the defendants owed a duty to employees’ households to prevent take-home exposure.
The duty, set forth by the Kesner court, extends from property owners to those members of a worker’s household who live with the worker and are in foreseeably close, sustained contact with the worker over significant time.
In the case before it, the California appellate court stated that the employer owed a duty to the plaintiff to protect her from exposure to asbestos. Since she was “foreseeably in close and sustained contact” with her husband for an extended period of time, the employer was not entitled to summary judgment.
The court reversed the trial court’s order and denied the motion for summary judgment.
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More Blog Posts:
California Court Holds Defendant was not an “Affiliate” Entitled to Summary Judgment on Negligence and Premises Liability Claims After Tragic Vehicular Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, March 27, 2017
California Court of Appeal Finds in Favor of Plaintiff in Car Accident Lawsuit When Evidence Fails to Show Plaintiff’s Consent to Settlement Agreement, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, June 9, 2016