California Court of Appeals Fails to Find Duty to Preconceived Child in Workplace Chemical Exposure Case

In a recent products liability/workplace injury case, Elsheref v. Applied Materials, Inc., 223 Cal. App. 4th 451 (2014), the California Court of Appeals had before it an appeal from a lower court’s decision regarding the liability of an employer for the injuries reportedly suffered as birth defects in an employee’s son.

According to the opinion, the employee worked in an environment that exposed him to various chemicals that were reportedly associated with posing risks of harm to the reproductive system. It is unclear from the opinion itself whether the employer knew that the employee was being exposed to the relevant chemicals, since the company had employed an industrial hygienist to ensure that the chemicals were not leaking from the apparatus being used by employees.

In the course of being fitted with a respirator, presumably so that he could complete his work with some sort of protective suit, the plaintiff employee was required to complete a health questionnaire. A few of the questions dealt with reproductive health questions, which the plaintiffs later attempted to use as evidence of a duty on behalf of the employer to the plaintiffs’ child who was later born with the birth defects allegedly attributable to exposure to the dangerous chemicals.

At trial, the court granted the employer’s motion for summary judgment, finding that the plaintiffs’ causes of action were all predicated on an alleged duty owed by the employer to the unborn child, and that therefore since the company demonstrated it owed no duty, there was no issue of triable fact. The trial court cited to various cases for the notion that California courts have not imposed a preconception duty on defendants that are not manufacturers of reproduction-related products or medical professionals. The court eventually entered judgment on behalf of the defendants on all of the plaintiffs’ causes of action.

On appeal, the Court of Appeals reviewed the various case law regarding when a duty is owed, and it found that the employer did not owe a duty to the plaintiffs’ preconceived child.

Regarding some questions that the employee was asked during the time that he was being outfitted for a respirator for work, the court found that the generic questioning was not an attempt to ensure the protection of his reproductive health, and also that the employer did not assume an undertaking to ensure for the health of any potential future children.

It found that to conclude otherwise would impose a potential duty on every employer that was simply complying with state law regulations, with potentially limitless liability.

Lastly, regarding the plaintiffs’ strict liability claim, the court found that the trial court did improperly grant the summary judgment motion, since strict liability does not require a showing of a duty, therefore presenting an issue of material fact regarding the strict products liability claim.

The judgment was reversed, with a direction to the trial court to set aside its order granting the employer’s motion for summary judgment, and to grant the motion for all claims except the one for strict products liability, and therefore denying the motion as to that count.

The California work injury lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC can help you navigate the often confusing world of filing a workers’ compensation claim. We are here to answer any questions that you have. Contact the experienced lawyers at Sharifi Firm, APC today! All of our services are free until we win you the settlement that you deserve. Call us for a free, no-obligation consultation to find out how we can help you resolve your workers’ compensation claim.

More Blog Posts:

California Supreme Court Upholds Medical Malpractice Award, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published May 14, 2015

California Court of Appeals Upholds Decision in Respondeat Superior Car Accident Case, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, published May 12, 2015

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