Yesterday, the Arizona Supreme Court agreed that they would consider whether an employer could be held liable for the secondhand asbestos exposure of an individual who has now developed cancer due to the inhalation of asbestos dust brought home on a parent’s work clothes.
The case stems from a 2013 asbestos-related lawsuit brought by Ernest Quiroz, who died in 2014, shortly after filing the suit. Quiroz had mesothelioma and contended that it was caused by long-time exposure to his father’s work clothes, which were covered with asbestos particles when he came home each day after working at the Reynolds Metal Company.
The suit alleges that the company was “legally obligated to avoid creating hazardous conditions that would injure people off its property.”
Thus far, Reynolds has won a pre-trial ruling by a local trial judge and the Court of Appeals upheld the ruling. But now, the decision will be in the hands of the Arizona Supreme Court.
Several other states have considered this scenario over the last several months. In December of 2016, the California Supreme Court ruled that companies should remain liable for such exposure if asbestos from their workplaces sicken the family member of a current or former employee.
Washington State is also open to demanding compensation for secondhand asbestos victims. A plaintiff there, the family of a woman whose husband worked at a Ferndale, WA oil refinery, was recently awarded $3.5 million (though the award was later reduced to $1 million).
Some states, however, aren’t so plaintiff-friendly in these cases. The Georgia Supreme Court, in the review of a similar case to those above, decided a few months ago that the company involved in that suit “could not have had a duty to warn someone whose contact with the product could not be foreseen.”
Likely, there are more cases of secondhand asbestos exposure in the U.S. (and around the world) than one might realize. It was never common practice for companies to allow those exposed to asbestos to change clothes or shower before going home, even though many of these companies clearly realized that asbestos exposure was dangerous.
The result was the exposure of several generations of mostly women and children who regularly inhaled toxic dust brought home on the clothes of the home’s breadwinner, usually the husband and father.
Those in charge of the laundry would shake out the dust-covered clothes before laundering them, creating a cloud of asbestos fibers around them. It’s difficult to surmise how much asbestos was inhaled during years and years of laundering but the results have been devastating for many women.
Similarly, one can cite cases of children who developed mesothelioma as adults after years of greeting their asbestos-covered father after work, climbing on his lap to snuggle, and inhaling asbestos while simply enjoying time spent being close to him. It’s an all-too-common scenario in the world of asbestos litigation.
As a result, advocates for fair treatment for asbestos victims are now rallying to convince more states to go the way of the California Supreme Court, providing at least some relief for the families of secondhand asbestos victims.