Arizona Court Rules Families Not Covered For Secondary Asbestos
Is there an angry emoji for court decisions? The Arizona Supreme Court has let employers off the hook for second-hand asbestos exposure resulting in mesothelioma.
Every mesothelioma case is tragic, but this case was about a child exposed to asbestos fibers carried home on his father’s work clothes. The Arizona courts, counter to legal precedent in other jurisdictions, recently affirmed that employers have no legal duty to employees or their families for “take-home” asbestos. California courts, on the other hand, have held employers liable.
Second-hand Asbestos Is Just as Dangerous
It is well-established that mesothelioma can develop from secondary exposure to asbestos. At work, asbestos-laden dust and debris clings to the clothing of workers or military personnel. At home, the asbestos fibers become airborne and are inhaled or ingested when workers remove their soiled uniform, when the spouse handles the laundry, or when children come in contact with the parent’s contaminated clothing. Family members who developed mesothelioma were probably exposed repeatedly over the years.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), and courts and legislatures in many states, have acknowledged the link between second-hand asbestos and mesothelioma.
Are Employers Responsible for Secondary Exposure?
At question in the recent Arizona court decision was whether the employer is liable for asbestos exposure in the workplace that is transferred to others (family members) through second-hand contact. Ernest Quiroz Jr., who died in 2014, had sued Reynolds Metal Co., where his father worked for 35 years. The lawsuit contended that Mr. Quinoz developed mesothelioma from exposure to his father’s work clothes, and that Reynolds was negligent for allowing a hazardous work environment.
Quiroz’ father did not realize he was exposing his child to a deadly carcinogen, but Reynolds would have known of the dangers of asbestos during his employment from 1948 to 1983. Yet the trial court ruled that Reynolds (now owned by Alcoa) owes no duty to Quinoz for the secondary exposure. The Court of Appeals granted summary judgment to the employer, and the Arizona Supreme Court affirmed the appellate ruling.
The Arizona high courts rationalized that anyone who ever came into contact with an employee who had primary workplace exposure could potentially sue. Thus they concluded that this small “slippery slope” risk outweighs the benefits of holding employers accountable when the spouses and children of their former workers later develop cancer. The Arizona decisions also cleared employers on the basis of foreseeability, which flies in the face of medical evidence. Certainly by the ’70s and ’80s (if not earlier) the harm to family members was foreseeable.
California and Other States Do Hold Employers Accountable
Courts in seven states, including California, have affirmed that employers do have a duty of care for take-home asbestos. However, in 15 states the courts have held that no such duty exists. Two other states have statutory bars against liability for secondary asbestos exposure. In the remaining states, the issue is unsettled and determined on a case-by-case basis.
Brayton Purcell LLP has successfully achieved settlements and verdicts in countless take-home exposure cases for decades.