Housemates Can Sue for Injury from Asbestos on Worker

In a very important decision, the Supreme Court of California just handed down a unanimous decision holding that the housemates of workers who brought home asbestos on their bodies, possessions, or clothing from work may sue the employers or owners of worksite premises for illness and death from the secondary exposure.

Kesner v. Superior Court 

The December 1 opinion in Kesner v. Superior Court was a consolidated case that decided issues common to two lawsuits. This law firm filed an Amici Curiae or friend-of-the-court brief with the court in support of one of the plaintiffs.

Both cases involved allegations that housemates, here family members, had contracted mesothelioma, a deadly asbestos-related cancer of the lining of major organs, because of having been exposed in the 1970s to microscopic asbestos fibers on the clothing or person of their relatives, who brought home the contaminated dust from work.

In one case, a nephew believed he had developed the cancer because of exposure to asbestos from his uncle’s work clothes brought home from his work in brake-shoe manufacturing. The plaintiff had spent regular overnights at the uncle’s home. This plaintiff died during the appeal and a relative stood in for him before the high court.

The second lawsuit was a wrongful death and survival action by the children of a woman who had been allegedly exposed to asbestos when her husband brought home asbestos fibers from railway work.

The Duty of Ordinary Care

The issue before the court was whether the employer or landowner of a worksite has a legal duty to take reasonable care to prevent workers from taking into their houses asbestos fibers that could cause injury to other people at home. The court held that both employers and premises owners do have such a duty, violation of which could make them liable for resulting injury in both negligence and premises liability lawsuits under California law.

Everyone has the legal duty to use ordinary, reasonable care not to harm others. The opinion is a detailed analysis of whether there should be any exception to the duty of ordinary care for employers or premises’ owners in this scenario. The answer was a resounding no to creating such an exception.

Next week we will continue our discussion of the court’s opinion.