Saturday, May 28, 2016

Judge awards $7 million in case involving a wife getting exposed to asbestos in her husband's work clothes

As you probably know, mesothelioma is a rare form of cancer caused by exposure to, and breathing of, asbestos fibers. Most asbestos cases involve plaintiffs who were exposed to asbestos directly (usually at work), but there are a few cases that have recognized liability for "second hand exposure."  These usually involve plaintiffs who were exposed to asbestos when the person who had been exposed directly brought the fibers home embedded in their clothes.

For example, back in 2013, I reported (here) that a jury in California awarded $27.3 million in damages to a woman who developed mesothelioma as a result of her contact with her husband's clothes.  Just about a year ago, I reported (here) that a Washington state jury awarded $3.5 million to the estate of a woman who died of mesothelioma for the same reason.

Now comes news (also here) that a trial judge in Louisiana has awarded $7 million to the surviving family members of a woman who died of cancer after years of washing her husband's asbestos-tainted clothes.

Plaintiffs in these cases argue that the defendant should be liable because the injury is a foreseeable consequence of the risk created by the negligence conduct or product (depending on whether the claim is for negligence or strict liability).  This, obviously, is just an argument in support of the element of proximate cause and defendants, therefore, reply that viewed this way, liability could extend too far thus defeating the reason for proximate cause in the first place.  Since the notion of proximate cause is used to limit the reach of possible liability, they argue liability should be limited to the injury to the person who was exposed directly.  Otherwise, any bystander who came in contact with this person could sue.  What if the worker, instead of going straight home after work, went to a bar every day for a beer or two with friends and other co-workers.  Any "regulars" at the bar could have a cause of action. 

It is not a frivolous argument, and I am guessing some courts have (or will) accept it.  But, as we have seen, a few have either rejected it or at least replied to it that even if the possible liability should be limited to exclude those bystanders, it should not exclude the immediate family members.  

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