California Supreme Court Holds that Employers or Property Owners Have Duty to Prevent Foreseeable Harm of Asbestos Exposure to Members of a Worker’s Household

Domestic exposure to asbestos takes place when workers come into contact with a toxin and carry it home on their clothing, resulting in a person or a family member suffering exposure due to their proximity with the worker (or their clothing).  Two lawsuits involving personal injury and wrongful death actions were consolidated by the California Supreme Court in an opinion that addressed whether the decedents’ employers had a duty to family members and those who share their household to prevent their exposure to asbestos.

The trial and appellate courts had evaluated whether there was a duty to prevent the exposure of asbestos to non-employees who had not visited the employers’ facilities, reaching different conclusions. Mesothelioma is associated with asbestos exposure and is a form of chest and abdomen cancer.  The plaintiffs contended there had been a risk of harm created through the use of asbestos-containing products, and household members were exposed to this harm.  The Supreme Court ultimately granted review and consolidated the cases to determine whether an employer has a duty to prevent take-home asbestos exposure to an employee’s household members under a negligence or premises liability theory.

The California Supreme Court held that employers have a duty to prevent exposure to asbestos when it is reasonably foreseeable that a worker will carry that asbestos from their premises to members of the household.  Employers must take reasonable care to prevent the transmission of asbestos, and this duty also applies to premises owners using asbestos, although it is limited to the members of a worker’s household.

This decision issued by the Court reflects the difficulty of framing a duty and specifically how far that duty can extend. The Court asked whether the duty of care to protect employees’ household members from asbestos exposure also extends to visitors, guests, and others with whom the employee may come into contact.  In their reasoning, the court stated that when the worker or their clothing acts as a “vector” carrying asbestos from the premises to household members, the employer does have a duty to take care to prevent this form of transmission.  However, the court limited the duty only to members of a worker’s household. They emphasized that the regularity and intensity of contact in a home is important, since it makes it more foreseeable that members of a worker’s household will suffer harm.

In this case, a representative for a deceased plaintiff alleged that the plaintiff had lived with his uncle at least three nights a week. His uncle worked at a plant that manufactured brake shoes and was exposed to asbestos fibers released in the manufacture of the shoes.  The plaintiff suffered from mesothelioma and alleged that his proximity to his uncle (the plaintiff would sleep near his uncle) contributed to his contraction of the disease.

On behalf of another plaintiff, heirs brought a wrongful death and survival action that alleged negligence, premises liability, and loss of consortium. This plaintiff lived with her husband, who worked as a fireman and hostler for a railway company. He had been exposed to asbestos from pipe insulation, among other products. Her heirs alleged that the plaintiff had been exposed to these fibers and that this exposure caused her cancer and death.

The Court looked at the elements of a negligence and premises liability claim, noting that they both require a legal duty of care, a breach, and proximate causation, leading to injuries.  But spatial or physical boundaries have never defined a landowner’s potential liability. The Court stated that the duty of care includes not exposing people to injuries off-site.  Ultimately, the court found that take-home asbestos exposure is reasonably foreseeable to employers that use asbestos-containing materials.

The wrongful death attorneys at Sharifi Firm offer guidance and representation to Southern California residents seeking compensation for the death of a loved one.  Contact our office to discuss your legal rights with an experienced attorney. We provide a free, no-obligation consultation and can be reached by calling 866-422-7222.

More Blog Posts:

Appellate Court Upholds Ratio of 10:1 Punitive to Compensatory Damages in California Lawsuit Alleging Fraud and Reprehensible Conduct by Life Insurance Company Following Plaintiff’s Accident, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, November 15, 2016

California Appellate Court Affirms Summary Judgment in Favor of Insurers When Underlying Intentional Harm is Excluded by Insurance Coverage, Southern California Injury Lawyer Blog, May 26, 2016

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