When Willis Edenfield died in 2011, just three months after being diagnosed with malignant mesothelioma, his wife was angry. And who wouldn’t be? Edenfield had worked for 40 years at a plant that handled asbestos materials daily, and, presumably, no one had warned the New Jersey man and his co-workers of the risk associated with exposure to this material.
But when his widow, Thomasina, filed suit in 2015 against Union Carbide, the company that – between 1970 and 1982 – delivered more than 30,000 pounds of asbestos to the six-building complex where Edenfield worked, her legal action was dismissed by the courts.
However, an appeals court reversed that decision this week, allowing the widow to proceed with the suit.
According to a report by New Jersey 101.5 radio, Edenfield’s job was to scoop up the asbestos, bag it, and bring it to other locations throughout the chemical plant where he was employed.
One co-worker, who testified back in 2015, told the court that Edenfield worked in a room where there was visible asbestos dust circulating through the air.
He would wear a face mask, which was likely not sufficient to stop tiny asbestos fibers from entering his lungs.
At the original trial, the judge decided there was “insufficient evidence” that Edenfield had been exposed to asbestos on-the-job, an outcome that seemed ridiculous to his co-workers and widow, who knew that the hard-working man handled the material every day for years.
However, the appellate judges maintained that there was proof that Union Carbide Company (UCC) had regularly delivered asbestos to the chemical plant and that while the “mere presence” of the toxic mineral at the plant wasn’t enough to link it to his death, the fact that he worked directly with the asbestos was certainly ample proof of regular exposure.
The appellate court also noted the fact that Edenfield had been exposed to asbestos for a longer period of time then some of the cases Union Carbide’s attorneys had cited back in the 2015 trial, cases that prompted the original dismissal.
“We are satisfied plaintiff has presented at least enough evidence to survive a motion for summary judgement,” the court wrote in its decision. “Based on evidence presented, a reasonable jury could infer the decedent suffered from exposure to UCC’s asbestos.”
This reversal of judgment will perhaps open the doors for others who were harmed by similar practices involving daily encounters with asbestos from Union Carbide and other distributors.
Those who have been effected by exposure and diagnosed with diseases such as mesothelioma need to know that it is their right to initiate legal action against those who negligently caused that exposure.