When Marcella Fletcher was 8-years-old, her mother assigned her the task of doing the laundry for the family. Part of her responsibilities involved washing the work clothing of her father, who was employed as a pipe fitter, sawing and fitting pipes all day long.
Marcella would shake out his clothes and white dust would fly around the laundry area, forming a fine mist that would permeate the air and remain on nearby surfaces.
Washing Dad’s clothes was just part of her job and Marcella thought nothing of it until, decades later, she was diagnosed with malignant pleural mesothelioma.
Once she put two-and-two together and recognized the reason for her disease, Fletcher consulted an attorney and decided to sue CertainTeed, a Pennsylvania-based company that made the pipe her father worked on each day.
But earlier this year, a Thomas County, Georgia State Court judge threw out the case and granted the company’s motion for summary judgement.
Fletcher’s attorneys appealed…and this week, they won. The Court of Appeals judges determined that CertainTeed has a duty as a products manufacturer to design reasonably safe products.
Fletcher, in her suit, had alleged that CertainTeed had “negligently designed its asbestos-laden products”. This appeals court decision will now allow the suit to move forward.
However, the Court of Appeals agreed with the State Court on another issue that was a huge part of Fletcher’s lawsuit and of any secondhand asbestos victim cases where the person is not the individual who directly encountered asbestos products.
The higher court agreed that CertainTeed did NOT “have a duty to warn family members of potential hazards in a take-home asbestos case.”
CertainTeed celebrated that ruling. A spokesmen for their law team said: “This will favorably impact companies that are defendants in asbestos and similar cases here and nationwide.
The trend of courts around the country has been to limit such take-home claims because they are so remote. The issue on which the plaintiff prevailed, the negligent design claim, is often not pursued by plaintiffs because of proof challenges at trial.”
Nonetheless, Fletcher maintained that there was no other way she would have been exposed to toxic asbestos, and because there is no other known cause for the development of mesothelioma, it is highly likely that the toxic CertainTeed products were the reason for her diagnosis.
Still, her lawyers are pleased with the result of the appeal. A spokesperson for the Buck Law Firm said in a statement to the press that his client “is gratified that the Supreme Court has reaffirmed the existence of a duty on the part of product manufactures to design reasonably safe products that extends to all Georgians” and was pleased that they were able to keep the lawsuit alive.
No doubt the diagnosis of mesothelioma came as a surprise to Fletcher. Most victims of secondhand exposure to asbestos likely don’t even recall the exposure nor, at the time of that exposure, were they aware that asbestos inhalation could cause a problem.
Filing a suit is the only way these victims can obtain justice and secure funds for expensive treatment and other expenses that aren’t covered by health insurance.