Last week, we told you about a recent California Supreme Court opinion in which the court unanimously held that housemates of workers who bring home asbestos on their bodies and clothing may be able to sue the workers’ employers for damages associated from secondary asbestos exposure, including damages linked to the development of mesothelioma. Specifically, the court said in Kesner v. Superior Court, “Where it is reasonably foreseeable that workers, their clothing, or personal effects will […] carry asbestos from the [worksite] to household members, employers have a duty to take reasonable care to prevent this […].”
However, while this court opinion opens up the possibility of roommates being able to seek damages following secondary asbestos exposure, it also addressed the issue of whether this same rule can be applied to others. For instance, what if you are exposed while riding the bus or in a car with someone who works with asbestos? Can you still seek damages from his or her employer if you develop mesothelioma?
How Far does an Employer’s Duty Extend?
One of the arguments made by the defendants in the recent California Supreme Court case was that if we were to accept the idea that an employer may be liable for secondary asbestos exposure when an employee carries the hazardous fibers outside the workplace, it would invite claims from “anyone who may have had contact with an asbestos worker”. This would potentially include friends, acquaintances, service providers, babysitters, neighbors, carpool partners, fellow commuters on buses/public transportation and laundry workers, just to name a few.
Even though the court did not ultimately side with the defendants, it still determined that an employer’s duty to prevent secondary asbestos exposure extends only to the worker’s housemates, partly because they are the ones who are in close contact with the worker over a substantial period of time. Also, while the court recognized that other people could suffer significant exposure with an asbestos worker – such as a carpool partner or fellow commuter – restricting claims to household members would limit potential plaintiffs to those “most likely to have suffered a legitimate, compensable harm.”
Although this particular conclusion may be unfortunate news for some mesothelioma victims, it is important to remember that it nevertheless did grant potential rights to housemates of asbestos workers. Also, just because this case may not apply to you doesn’t mean that aren’t other legal theories that will, which is why it is always a good idea to speak with an experienced attorney.